Book Review: Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Tales of a South African Childhood

Trevor NoahThis book was absolutely wonderful! This is quite likely the best memoir I’ve ever read (Well, actually, I listened to it.). Trevor Noah narrates and uses all his repertoire of voices and accents his fans are familiar with on The Daily Show. There are laugh-out-loud moments, for sure, but what surprised me was the depth and vulnerability present in this memoir. Noah bares his soul and shows us the truth of growing up biracial, a crime, in apartheid South Africa. He paints a beautiful, but honest, picture of a strong, loving, and somewhat eccentric African mother, an aloof, yet caring, Swiss-German father, a complicated and abusive step-father, and a colorful portrait of his other friends and family members.

Some of Noah’s experiences shocked me. He seems too well-adjusted and happy to have gone through so much, but I think he makes it clear that his mother is primarily responsible for that, along with a pretty peaceful temperament and a good head on his shoulders.

This memoir is a must-read, though, not because it is funny, sweet, honest, and poignant, which it is, but because it gives a first person account of the effects of apartheid, racism and caste systems in general, and some of the issues that all poor people face, and minorities in particular. He discusses phenomena such “paying the black tax” and the code of ethics in the “hood” with the benefit of thoughtful hindsight and sheds light on issues of poverty, racism, and crime in America as well.

This memoir is highly engaging, and I was sad to have it end. Noah left me anxious to hear more about his life and to find out more about how he achieved his current success, even though it is clear he was on the path to it when this book ends. I highly recommend this book. Trust me; you’ll love it!–Christina Knowles

 

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The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu       As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

Bad Advice by Christina Knowles

follow your heartWith all the graduations and weddings this time of year, the world is rife with “good” advice.  It seems everyone has an aphorism or two to share. But are these common aphorisms comprehensive truths? Or are we so used to hearing them that we don’t really bother examining them? Here are some suggestions that many people take as some kind of universal wisdom that really should never be followed:

  1. In college, major in something that will lead to a good career. Students are so brainwashed into becoming marketable that they need very little encouragement to throw their dreams and passions in the wastebasket in order to please some corporate exec who will use them up and spit them out. Don’t do it. Follow your passion, and you will be automatically “marketable.”
  2. Go to college right after graduation. Kids feel the pressure from parents, teachers, and colleges as early as their freshmen year in high school to choose a career, check out schools, and apply for scholarships. Geez, not only do you have no idea who you are yet, you certainly have no idea who you will be in two years. Go out in the world and find out before wasting $50,000 unless you’ve known since you were two and it’s never changed.
  3. Get a good paying job. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making bank if you are doing what you love, but do what you love first, and then decide what kind of lifestyle doing what you love can support. A good paying job is a prison that will enslave you into wasting the next 40 years if you are not careful.
  4. Establish credit. Sure, don’t ruin your credit, but don’t go around thinking you have to get a loan and pay it off to build up your credit. That just enslaves you to debt. The best credit is built by NOT having debt and paying bills on time, bills like your rent and the utilities.
  5. Put your kids first. This is a modern idea. In past generations, adults took care of their kids’ needs, and didn’t really lose sleep over their kids’ wants. You know what? It worked. Kids became self-sufficient, hard-working, considerate, unselfish people instead of entitled, self-loathing people who can’t figure out why everyone is not trying as hard as their parents to make them happy. They learned to make themselves happy.
  6. Buy a house instead of renting as soon as you can. Buying a house is a better deal than renting if you know you are ready to settle down. But buying a house too soon is another trap, designed to keep you from following your true desires. When you are young and unattached, don’t be in such a hurry to tie yourself down.
  7. Wait for marriage. This is an old fashioned idea that most people have given up. There is a lot of baggage tied up in sex, and incompatible sex partners make miserable life partners. Do you really want to take that chance? By all means, don’t jump in bed with someone on the third date, but if you are considering marriage, take a test drive around the block first.
  8. Marriage is hard work, so stick with it. Marriage is supposed to make life easier, not harder. I’m not talking about throwing in the towel as soon as the honeymoon is over, or giving up because one of you is going through a hard time, but if sharing your life with someone is really that much work, why bother? When you are happily partnered up, life is sweet. When you are miserable, and going home is worse than working a 12-hour shift, move on. Life is too short.
  9. Wait for the kids to get older to get divorced. There is a common misconception that it will be easier on the kids, the older they are. Not true. Young kids are way more resilient. They will adapt and forget what it was like living with both of you at the same time. Older kids and even young adults hang on to the past and resentments much longer, and as an added bonus, love to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. Also, when you are in an unhappy relationship, you probably aren’t doing your best parenting.
  10. Save for your kids’ college. What? You’re getting old, and you don’t have much time left to get that mortgage paid off and prepare for a few leisurely years before you die. Your kids have their whole lives to pay for their education, and they probably have more time left than you. An added bonus is that kids tend to get a lot more out of their education when they pay for it themselves.
  11. Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen. The sun is really good for you in moderation. A half hour a day provides you with much needed Vitamin D, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, and gives a general sense of well-being. Conversely, sunscreen causes more cancer than sun damage. Just don’t overdo your exposure. If you have to stay out in the sun for a long time, wear a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.
  12. Shelter your kids. Protecting your kids from reality is not helping them. Keep them safe by letting them understand the real world and how to protect themselves without scaring them. Expose them to different ideas and diverse groups of people while keeping lines of communication open. Answer their questions honestly. By answering uncomfortable questions in a direct and forthright manner, you give yourself the opportunity of influencing your child while they are actually interested in what you have to say. You will also earn the reputation of being someone who tells the truth and that can be trusted.
  13. Take “You-Only-Live-Once” to mean “Die-As-Soon-As-Possible.” The trend of risk-taking for entertainment is nothing new among the young, but lately, it seems people aren’t outgrowing this behavior. Jumping out of an airplane on a motorcycle may make you feel alive, but you won’t actually be alive that long if you indulge in this type of hobby. Adrenaline junkies also tend to get cancer and heart disease sooner, that is, if they live long enough. We weren’t meant to live in the fight or flight mode full-time. So, if you only live once, shouldn’t you try to make it last a while?
  14. Save all your money for retirement. Saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but spend some of it on the now. What if you live frugally, putting off all your traveling and fun for retirement, and you never get there? What if you die two weeks before retirement? You can’t take it with you, and to be honest, you can’t save enough to matter anyway. I mean a nice nursing home will suck that retirement account dry in a matter of months. The best retirement plan is to be out of debt, own your house, and have a modest income coming in, so you don’t have to work until you’re dead. If you have to go in to an assisted living situation, you may as well have spent your money while you could enjoy it, and let Medicaid take care of the years when you can’t.
  15. Don’t Go to Bed Angry. This has got to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard—like your relationship’s really going to be better off after staying awake fighting all night? The more tired you get, the more stupid things you will say to regret in the morning. Just go to bed mad, and when you wake up, you probably won’t even remember that you were angry the night before. If it was really that serious, you wouldn’t be able to solve it one night anyway, and at the very least, you will have had some time and space to calm down.

So next time you reach for that age-old (worn out) wisdom that you’ve heard so many times that you think it must be fact, look at it from a different perspective and just do what you want. And however hypocritical it may be, I’ll offer my favorite bit of advice from notable French author, François Duc de La Rochefoucauld: “It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.” –Christina Knowles

Alive by Christina Knowles

Signs of Life“Alive”

I am alive

Once merely lingering, undeniably,

Through the journey I have thrived

Pain dwells in me

Eight swords still mark the space

But blinded I am bound

To this time and place

I am alive

The searing burn inside

Recognizes the offense

An ache that won’t subside

But still I am alive

The recompense is joy

Laughter that resides

Deep down, a place I thought destroyed

It’s true; I am alive

Excitement of uncertain futures

The Wheel of Fortune turns

Rumors in the cards discerned

Afflicted by the Sword

With dreams that have yet to die

Yes, I am alive

An unlikely state from past mistakes

The Hanged Man now is loved

A Lover, he becomes

Beholden, he succumbs

Driven to survive

Indeed, I am alive

Drifting down a nameless road

The signs of life abound

A Fool’s errand, I know

All around me, a presage

I am a life compelled

A glimmer, just a vestige

The hidden hazards of the Moon

In the Sun dispelled

Still Death, a knight, rides close

Morose, I journey forward

Simply because I am alive

A portent of the end of days

But days till then I’ll spend

With Justice, who sits on her throne

Her sword alone is raised

This is the company I keep

The path I have embraced

While still I am alive

Further down the quiet road

I stride in hopes to find

A way to lift the load

To fix the broken kind

The chaos in the sky

Death about to die

I’ll doctor it the best I can

And breathe into it life

For all around the signs are there

And I am still Alive—Christina Knowles (2016)

Photo: Signs of Life by Christina Knowles. Copyright 2016.

“The Broken Become Wise” by Christina Knowles

Pagan symbol

“The Broken Become Wise”

Images of the long forgotten

Dance across closed eyes

A smoldering cauldron of misbegotten

Tries; faltering, I surmise

Too late the uncommon

Value of dark and stormy skies

The knowledge of the sodden

Soul; the broken become wise

Straining, I see through the mist of fear

The wisdom of the ancient Druid

Seer; her smile is cavalier

My dread is transmuted

Bravely, I appear

Sorrow, as a weed uprooted

Destiny—no mere

List so easily permuted

I, alone, discern

The path of the Ancients

The Celtic sojourn learn

Deafened to mendacious

Guides, I finally adjourn

Rumination’s patience

Prophetic dreams return

Asleep, the mind sagacious

Awakened, my pilgrimage is clear

Avoiding the spiritually reputed

Secluded, I pioneer

The skeptic, conduits refuted

Divining the allelic, finally truth is near

Facts undisputed

Though the Romantic’s quest’s sincere

Morosely, true believers brooded

Still, images of the long forgotten rise

But the broken become wise

And healed, the myth, decries.

—Christina Knowles

Free by Christina Knowles

Free (#2, Letting Go)

 

Letting go

I let myself be who I am

Wandering alone through a jungle

Of contradictory claims

The skeptic

Ye of little faith

Actually none

Bouncing from one fiction to another

Grasping at scrawny tree limbs

Too dry and brittle to hold the weight of inspection

Of critical scrutiny

I hung on too long

Even while twigs snapped at a touch

Letting go

I should have done it long ago

Free-falling, uninjured

Floating peacefully on the unknown

It’s never too soon to be free

At last, free to live

The reality, a genuine life

On undiscovered details

Letting go

Of the need to know

Content

Free from the fairy tale

The false hope

Hope that meant nothing

More than an interesting dream

An afternoon of storytelling

An evening of Shakespeare

Both tragic and comedic

An epic battle between good and evil

Only to realize there is no difference

According to this dramatist

Letting go

And realizing the freedom

The relief

The ability to breathe deeply

Of the infinite, if only for a moment

A blip on the radar of the universe

A breath so pure and clean

I’d never miss the toxic perfume of lies

So I exhale completely

Letting go—Christina Knowles

 

Photo via Pinterest, source unknown

Honesty by Christina Knowles

Honesty“Honesty”

Like through crystal clear glass

I see you beyond

The unconscious impasse

Your words and your actions correspond

Not even a mist fogs this air

Things we share impossibly

Risking all that we care

For honesty

Because without it, we’re just strangers

Alone in the world of the mind

Lonely traitors

Intimacy left behind

Without truth

We can’t find each other

Play the game of sleuth

Why bother?

The real me misconstrued

The real you

Subdued

Living lives we never knew

So, with you, only honesty

I won’t conceal me

No pretense; an improbability

But there’s no lying harmlessly

No caravan of tales

I don’t want to live alone

Because honestly, pretending pales

In the light of being known

—Christina Knowles

Art by Christina Knowles

PALETTE KNIFE Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov
PALETTE KNIFE Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov

A canvas

Colors vividly swirl

A painted sky

Cloud-swept and clean

A sharp and jagged mountain

Cut with a palette knife

The paint tells a story of its own

Not realistic but real

More real than nature

The truth underneath

Revealing

What the soul sees

What the heart knows

Life uncovered

Art shows the true story

A story so important

Not everyone can understand it

The unfortunate go blindly

Through mountains and meadows

By seascapes and down winding paths

Looking but never seeing

While the artist strips away the veil

And brightens the picture

Revealing what was there all along

Hidden from the ordinary

Knowing there is no such thing

The extraordinary is all around us

Hiding, pretending to be banal, bourgeois

Until the artist brushes truth

On a canvas.

–Christina Knowles (2009)

Image: PALETTE KNIFE Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov

Waxing Philosophical: Everything You Perceive Is Not Fact by Christina Knowles

human-perception            Philosophy was one of my favorite subjects in college, and still remains so today. And although I enjoy reading Descartes and his Meditations on First Philosophy, wherein, he proclaims his existence as well as God’s, it is odd to hear these same 17th century arguments still in use in our modern era. Many people say they just know God exists, and although I understand that this is evidence to them, it does not affect me at all. These arguments are remarkably popular, and although they cannot be disproven, they can certainly be shown to be fallacious and illogical.

In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes claims that he knows he and God exist because he clearly and distinctly perceives this to be the case. He states that because he is able to think about his existence, he must exist. Descartes believes that because he is not perfect, but is able to think of a perfect thing (God), this idea must not come from him, but from God. Descartes also claims that God must exist because he has a clear and distinct perception of him. Another argument Descartes introduces as evidence of God’s existence is that it is God’s essence to exist. He claims that he can only be certain that he and God exist because he can only clearly and distinctly perceive this and this information is innate in him. Descartes’ argument about knowing that he exists because he is able to think about it, is sound. His arguments for the existence of God and for his belief that he can only know for certain that he and God exist are valid, but not true, and therefore, are not sound.

Let me explain. Descartes believes he exists because he realizes that doubting he exists is a form of thinking. If he is thinking, he is doing something, which means he must exist. If this argument is looked at as conversion, then it would not be valid, but I think it can be understood as valid this way: If (p-I think), then (q-I am doing something). If (q-I am doing something), then (r-I must exist). Therefore, if (p-I think), then (r-I must exist). This is a hypothetical syllogism and is a valid argument. It’s premises are true; therefore, it is sound.

However, Descartes also argues that God exists. One reason he believes in the existence of God is that he is imperfect, but he can think of a perfect thing (God). He claims that an idea of a perfect thing could not come from him because of his imperfection. Because of this, he believes the idea must have come from a perfect thing (God). Therefore, God must exist (Descartes, 46). This is valid, first using modus tollens and then disjunctive syllogism: If (p-I were perfect), then (q-I would not doubt). But (not q-I do doubt). Therefore, (not p-I am not perfect). (modus tollens). I can think of a perfect thing. Either (p-it comes from me) or (q-it comes from something external to me). (Not p-it does not come from me). Therefore, (q-it comes from something external to me (God). God must exist. (disjunctive syllogism). These arguments are valid in that their logical organization is not flawed; however, probably not true because their premises are probably not true; therefore, they are not sound. Descartes gives no evidence that an imperfect person cannot think of a perfect thing without an outside influence. There may be other explanations for someone thinking of a perfect thing. I can think of a perfect man, but that does not mean one exists.

Another argument Descartes uses for the existence of God is that he clearly and distinctly perceives God; therefore, he must exist. This can be understood as valid in this way: If (p-I clearly and distinctly think God exists), then (q-God does exist). And (p-I do clearly and distinctly think God exists). Therefore, (q-God does exist). (modus ponens). This may be valid, but it is not logical. Causes of his thinking may be more complex. There may be other reasons he clearly and distinctly thinks that God exists. For example, he may be insane. I may clearly and distinctly think I am Marilyn Monroe, but that does not make it true. He may just be wrong. I have thought wrong things before, but that did not make them true. Descartes’ thoughts are not necessarily facts.

Finally, Descartes argues for the existence of God by saying that it is the essence of God to exist. He states that it is impossible to think of God separate from existing (p. 90). To test the validity of this argument, we can put it in the form of a hypothetical syllogism. If (p-I cannot think of God without thinking he exists), then (q-God and existence cannot be separated). If (q-God and existence cannot be separated), then (r-God must exist). Therefore, if (p- I cannot think of God without thinking he exists), then (r-God must exist). Although this argument is valid in form, it is not sound because it contains a fallacy known as ‘begging the question.’ It is assuming what it is seeking to prove. In order for God to have the essence of existence, there is already the assumption that he exists. Because it is fallacious, it proves nothing and is not logical.

Although Descartes makes a case for his own existence, which is not terribly difficult to do, he fails to prove God exists only because he can clearly and distinctly perceive him and based on his unfounded belief that he cannot think of a perfect being without external influence. Strangely, Descartes believes everything else is to be doubted because it cannot be perceived in this same manner (p. 80). He believes that this perception is innate, but if it is innate, then why is it not innate in everyone? And even if it was, it could be caused by other influences, such as an innate evolutionary need to explain the unknown. He also believes that he can only know that he and God exist and no others, but does he not perceive that others exist as well? Perhaps, he believes that he can perceive others because he perceives himself, so it could come from within him. However, his argument is not sound because it is based on his previous assumption of God’s existence, which is based on his clear and distinct perception of him. It is also contradictory because Descartes mentions other things he clearly and distinctly perceives, things that have no reason to be only internally perceived. If Descartes removes all fallacies upon which his arguments are based, he can only be certain of his own existence, and he fails to prove God exists.

Certainly, everyone has the right to perceive, believe, and feel within his person the truth or existence of anything, and this, indeed, may be sufficient evidence for the individual who experiences this certainty within himself, but this is not a sound argument with which to convince others. Clearly, these are interesting topics of conversation and not everything felt or believed needs to be proven, or even true, for that matter, but one should not be surprised if this line of thinking fails to impress those around him. It is interesting to analyze our own thinking, and writing this makes me wonder what things I accept as true, simply based on a feeling or a perception. Probably a great deal, and that might not be such a bad thing, as long as I don’t expect others to base their beliefs on my feelings.—Christina Knowles

Sources

Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First    Philosophy, 3rd ed. Trans. Donald A. Cress. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co, 1993. Print

Photo: “Human-Perception.” nabeelafsar.com. Web. 12 June 2015.

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