Book Curiosities from Brazil – What books are inmates reading?

Federal Prisons in Brazil have a program called “Remission through reading” [Remissão pela Leitura], that rules that every time an inmate reads and writes a review of the book their sentence is 4 days shortened. The program library has 124 books enlisted so far. This are the inmates favorite books of 2012, according to the Ministry of Justice:

Cover of "The Book Thief"

Cover of The Book Thief

1) The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

2) The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

Cover of "The Kite Runner"

Cover of The Kite Runner

3) The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

4) Nunca desista de seus sonhos, Augusto Cury – The first Brazilian book featured in the list is also the first self help book. The translated title would be Never give up on your dreams. 

I wonder what sort of books are read by american inmates… It would be interesting to see the cultural differences between the two countries.

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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

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I finished reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, by Neil Gaiman, a few weeks ago, but I had to give myself some time to process emotionally and rationally what the book had done to me. Being so talkative about books, this time I was strangely silent.

First, I have to admit, I had this little disdain for it, stuck with the idea I had already read something like it. I couldn’t remember where, so I moved on, thinking to myself how foolish I have been and focussing on how creative people can be when it comes to fantastic fiction. It seems the possibilities open up to a broader range, making the narrative more fluid, poetic, complex. And there I was, stuck again, this time with all the concepts of literary analysis I had studied at school. I got caged in the theory, without properly looking at the novel itself.

Then came a very nice blogger review, talking about how the book made her cry about the lost childhood, the home she would never be able to go back. I felt like there was something missing in my interpretation of the book, perhaps the sentiment of the book. It was running through my fingers, I was letting it scape. It was urging me to revisit my own childhood, teasing me.

I spent most of hot summer nights in a beach called Barequeçaba, a couple of hours away from São Paulo. The only thing I could count on was that I would reunite with cousins and friends that I haven’t seen all year. We would have long walks on the shore, philosophical talks at moonlight. We would swim on the ocean at the end of the lane, the real ocean.

I met my first love on that ocean in my teens, when we first exchanged kisses in between the waves. Both of us liked walking to the end of the beach and swimming to the other side of the mountain, following the rocks, where we would find a small inhabited beach. We had fun, but we grew up and those days became a sweet memory. It has been years since we managed to get together again.

After getting engaged, I went back to that same beach to visit the house my grandmother had sold a couple of years ago. I think the last time I had been there was when I met my husband. I wanted to show him that part of me that was gone, but I couldn’t translate into words what I wanted him to see. I wanted him to see the old me, the one that had run up and down those sand rocky streets in her swimming clothes and bare foot. The teenager that could sneak out of her house to see a loving friend at 2am, sometimes bringing beers under her arm. The woman that had taken a couple of friends for a Carnival (or Mardi Gras) at the beach and ended up at a party at the club a couple of miles away that one day she met him. Afterwards, she returned home, slept and woke up the next day to see a phone with an incredibly big number of text messages. What I now realize, though, was that I went there to show myself I had grown and the past was gone, remaining only the memories and the good feelings. I guess you could say I wanted to show the ocean where I swam so many times how I was doing without him.

Roughly dilapidated

Juliana Sayão Domingues Clark, 2013. 

Like a dilapidated diamond, I am a conjoint of small polished surfaces.

Fifty eight facets, fifty eight sides represent the fractions of personality I am aware I possess.

The fractions are uneven, contradictory, pointing in different directions, but they never annul themselves.

Their edges were cut, trying to masquerade the roughness of the original stone.

The roughness that was born with me, and in me still lies.

The roughness that are implied in all my statements, in my journey, in myself, especially when nobody knows or tries to see.

The roughness that I touch convulsively and I conceal within me.

The roughness only I know.

Me and my facets, we all talk.

We talk about love, marriage and babies.

We talk about life, and death. About the birds, the skies, the dogs, my dogs.

We pronunciate words without real meaning, except for the ones we signify ourselves. We create our own language from zero, from our roughness.

We disagree. Argue. Fight.

We incite the suicide of ourselves, aiming to become one homogeneous block.

I urge to unite, to be coherent.

I need to kill the dissonance in me.

I need to control the many “me’s” in me, though I am tired of fighting myself.

I am tired of fighting myself and my roughness and my language.

I need to accept what I am.

I am the nurturer of my dreams and agonies.

The ultimate gardener of my own anxieties.

The unity within the caos.

I am the meaning of all the sentences that rush through my brain and scape through my mouth. I am the intent within the act of saying and writing.

I am the conscience behind the roughness.

The complexity within the order.

I am the thesis, the antithesis and, finally,  the synthesis.

I am.

The perks and quirks of moving

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I feel weird talking about home in a country that drowned in debts and economic recession precisely because of how banks and financial institutions gambled with peoples lives regarding their house loans and their dream to own a house, simply because they were seeking to live the american way of life. To this people, their house is definitely their home. My house started becoming my home the moment I said goodbye to my parents, at Guarulhos airport in São Paulo, a few steps away from customs.

After I got engaged in 2011, during Christmas, we had to have the big uncomfortable talk about where we would live. Eric* is american, I am Brazilian, and we would have to pick, at the very least, between the two. It was easy to convince me we would be happier in the US. My husband does not speak portuguese (Please, people! We don’t speak spanish!), he has a hard time driving in São Paulo and he has a steady job, while I was having my first professional experience after earning my master’s degree. It was not my ideal job, and my paycheck was appallingly ridiculous. I was tired of spending one hour in the car every morning just because of traffic, and, on my way back home, at the time my parents house, another hour. The biggest city in South America is also extremely polluted, crowded and loud. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown to death, but when weighing in, we would have a better quality of life in Ohio.

We got married in november 2012. I travelled to Columbus two times while we were engaged. During the first trip, I would just drive around in my fiancée’s car, trying to get to know the city. I used to take pictures of houses for sale, but we had decided together our focus were apartments to rent for a year or so. On weekends, I would take Eric to my favorite places, and we would see our options. I would secretly research prices of houses for sale online as well, trying to see if I could find a good deal that would make us change our minds. I wanted to see the big picture before committing to something and make sure we would live somewhere we would have everything to be happy.

After three weekends of intensive apartment hunting, I finally convinced him it was time to find a realtor and check out some houses. One day, I actually walked in alone a real state broker’s office and just requested a meeting with any of their realtors without Eric knowing I would do it. He thought I was crazy and hasty, but he went to the meeting and met our realtor, Vince. My last week in town we dedicated to house search with him. If in the beginning I had my doubts renting was a waste of money, after I saw the house prices and the mortgage conditions I was absolutely sure it was. For a decent house, we would pay maybe an extra 200 dollars per month, but it would be our own. We would be investing in us, in our comfort, our future. Paying mortgage made much more sense to me. The main reason being the fact that we would be able to say our house was our home.

Second time was much easier, in some ways, and much more stressful. Eric had finally accepted that I wanted a house, and that this would be a better investment for our soon to be family. We saw what felt like hundreds of houses until we found one that suited us both and made an offer. It was a major step in our lives, and one we will never regret. Apparently, there was a much better offer on the table. Our realtor called us and implied that if we didn’t raised our initial offer we would loose the deal. We stood our ground, thinking the seller’s were trying to get us to give them more money without even entering the negotiation phase. Plus, we weren’t sure we wanted to go over our budget. Two weeks after loosing what we thought was the perfect house, we found another one – this time we had the street smarts to negotiate, go ahead and finish the deal. I went back to Brazil, and in one month Eric and I were getting married.

As much as I wanted to live in the US on our house, it took me a while to realize and accept I was moving out of my parents house, out of my well known home town. It felt like I was diving into the unknown like Scrooge McDuck in his stash of golden coins, and buying our own place sometimes felt like an ultimatum to make it work, otherwise we would loose money. It is funny because for months the house was all I could think and worry about, but as soon as we got it, I started to have ambiguous feelings towards it. It all seemed very real, and terrifying.

Our wedding day was the happiest one of our lives, and we had the most perfect honeymoon in northeast Brazil. Eric came to Ohio first to close the deal and move in, and two weeks later I joined him. In the beginning, we had a big house and no furniture, just air mattresses. We had to buy everything, since this was Eric’s first house too. Up until that moment, he lived with his brother, paying rent for his room. The dream we had for the last months were becoming true. I had mixed feelings, somedays being overweeningly happy, and others just missing friends and family, but I never doubted that we have made the right choice. As I was learning our house little noises, I started to fell in love with it. Our bed arrived, our TV, our sofa arrived, and all that emptiness was being filled with carefully selected furniture I thought would make our house feel more and more like home.

Looking back at all the trouble we went to buy a house, I think about how little did I know back then. Our beautiful house is our home, but what made it our home wasn’t the fact we have our names in a peace of paper and a monthly pay to make sure it stays that way. Truth is, my house didn’t feel completely like my home until we adopted a dog, Pinga, filled the family room with our pictures and bought Kayo, our second dog. It didn’t feel like home until we fixed the shower in the master bedroom, organized our clothes in the closet and spent cold winter nights watching TV on the couch. It didn’t feel like home until we both fell asleep in that couch, instead of going upstairs to the bedroom. It didn’t feel like home until our friends came and had some beers on a saturday night. More importantly, it didn’t feel like home until Eric and I shared that loving reassuring look one Christmas day, one year after getting engaged, and I was sure we did good on the country, city and house choice, because we were so goddamn happy. I guess I learned the hard way that the old saying “home is where the heart is” is absolutely true.

*Eric is not my husbands real name, but at his request I am using a fake name for this post.

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A nation’s flip flop

For many years, and while I was a child living in Brazil, Havaianas was a rubber and plastic cheap flip-flop used mainly by poor people. Maids loved it, men working as bricklayers used it daily. Using it would associate a person to a certain social class, which most of middle class, largely conservative, is always trying to separate itself from and most of the wealthy barely recognize as existent, furthermore as trendsetters. Back then, the slippers had only one model. The sole was white, the straps were colored: light blue, yellow, pink, red, black. The strap color was the only thing you could pick, which eventually  lead the sandals to be perceived as a product only for the poor and sales started to decrease.

In the early 1990’s, Havaianas went through a major rebranding effort. Their line of products grew, introducing new colors, packaging and displays. The company invested heavily in promotional campaigns, trying to change the brand’s social perception. After a while, the slippers started to be associate with an irreverent and relaxed attitude. They started to be are considered cool, colorful, laid back, chic. Deeply associated with Brazilian culture and identity, it was presenting itself as youthful, happy, stylish. If in 1993 the company sold 65.000 pairs of flip-flops, this number raised for 105.000 pairs in 1999. [Source: Business Today]

Loja de Havaianas em São Paulo, Brasil.

Havaianas’s Store in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember starting using Havaianas because, at some point, it became fashionable at school. That must have been when I was 10 or 12 years old. It was, to me, associated with being cool, trendy.

By the time I was in high school, a very progressive liberal school, using Havaianas was almost a statement against social discrimination, since everybody was using it. It was cheap enough that poor people would continue to wear it proudly, but it was also conquering more and more consumers in other social classes, more recently even abroad. I regarded it as a democratic shoe.

I brought several models with me when I moved to the US, and I use them all through spring and summer, trying to match the colors of my clothes with the colors of my shoes. I prefer the ones that have a design, as you can see in the picture bellow, much more fashionable than the plain ones. I still thinks it is democratic, but today it is mainly a way to remember my home country.

20130718-165823.jpgThe same way Havaianas went through a rebranding, changing its social image, I would like to think I changed too. If my reasons to wear this specific shoe, and not others, when I was 12 were purely fashion related, I love to think that my rebellious 16 years old self was trying to make a social statement through the slippers I was wearing, becoming aware of the social problems that Brazil had –and still has. In addition, I would make peace with my 27 years old self who is a bit less revolutionary, perhaps sadly, but a lot more complex, who wears it for fun, comfort, fashion and as a proof I don’t forget where I came from.

The challenge of understanding our linguistics boundaries in different contexts

sa langue est vivante.jpg

(Photo credit: weelakeo)

I remember my first email account, a @hotmail.com one, that I had done to be able to chat with my friends on messenger. That was after ICQ became obsolete. A few years later, I would change it for a @gmail.com, the same one I use until today, 12 years later. This new account grew up with me, as my e-mails about school essays and group activities became an intellectual exchange about linguistics with my master’s advisor and a way to reach out for friends living abroad. Also, it quickly became THE way to apply for jobs, make new business connections and broadcast my ventures into blogging. When I started dating my husband, three and a half years ago, e-mails, text messages and skype talks were our way to stay in touch, since I lived in Brazil and he in the US.

Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) was the main theory I used on my master’s research. The main concern of SFL is to understand how language functions in different ways, according to a context of culture and a context of situation. A context of culture is the broad social environment we are in. It includes everything that constitutes an individual as a social being: his country, language, education, social status, customs, religious beliefs. A context of situation refers to the social environment where communication is established, something more specific than the context of culture. It is directly related to three variables: how meaning is construed (textual metafunction), what meanings are beings expressed (ideational metafunction) and who is involved in the communication (interpersonal metafunction). This means that people within a determined culture, when communicating, adapt their written or verbal texts accordingly to what they want to say, how they want to say it and to whom they are speaking to.

Going back to my e-mails, we can see they were used in different situations, with different purposes. I used to write my boyfriend about my day and ask about his, tell him funny stories, and so on. This specific interactions have certain language features that, of course,  were not present on job interview requests. On one of the first emails I wrote my american boyfriend, 2 weeks after we met, I accidentally signed “Bj, Juliana”, like I would do if I was writing to a Brazilian friend. Bj, in portuguese slang, means Kiss. In my mind, I was sending him a kiss, not implying anything more sexual, which you can imagine surprised the hell out of him. He awckardingly-jokingly replied, I would imagine a bit chocked with my audacity, but still not sure what I meant with that. His reply made me blush after I realized the misunderstanding, and it became a joke between us. Our cultural differences certainly had put as through some funny episodes like this one. After a few months, the friendly “Kisses” were replaced by the much more sentimental “Love you”, way more suitable for two people that were actually falling in love and taking their relationship seriously, apart from the geographic distance. The closer we grew, the language we used in our emails naturally changed.

Now, I would never write to a possible-future-boss the same way I wrote to my boyfriend. First of all, since I talked about slangs, I would never sign an email with a slang term, it is too informal. If I wanted to be taken seriously by him, I would have to use my e-email as an opportunity to show that I can write accordingly to certain social established rules. Treat the person with respect, thanking him or her for taking the time to get to know me through my resumé. Tell a little about myself and why his open position add compelled me to write, how perfect I think I am for that job. I want to make sure he will read my resumé, so I keep it short and give maybe one key information that would catch his attention and make him interested. I would have to keep a formal distance, mainly because he is stranger with the power to hire me or not, and to whom I may have to work for. Not as formal as “your highness”, but still formal. I would start the email with a short “Hello”, introduce myself and finish it off with, maybe, a “Thanks for your time, hope to hear back from you, Juliana”.

The two situations described above wildly vary in terms of what meanings were expressed, how they were expressed and who I was talking to. The degree of formality in my speech would change depending on how intimate is my relationship with the person I am talking to, the informations would vary according to what is suitable for me to talk about to each person and the way I would expressed myself, for instance, using or not slang, also followed the social standards for each interaction.

Our main challenge is to adapt our language to the distinct social situations we face everyday. While personal emails are easier to be written, the main problem is when we push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable in a professional atmosphere. To avoid this problem our perception of propriety needs to be sharp, and, in order to do that, we need to understand our audience, the topic we are talking about and language, itself.

Sleepy in the mornings, productive at night?

napping

napping (Photo credit: demandaj)

B Society, from Denmark, might have an answer for you. Based on Chronobiology, the study of the human body internal clock, also called circadian rhythms, this organization is proposing that we rearrange work and school hours respecting everyone’s most productive hours. You know how some people just can’t function before 10 am? Or how some are more productive when they work at night? That is all related to our circadian rhythms.

But what the heck is Chronobiology and circadian rhythms? B Society explains it:

“Chronobiology is the study of human beings’ internal clocks – our circadian rhythms. These daily rhythms are genetically determined and refer to the times of day or night when each human being prefers to be awake or asleep. They also relate to the optimal times during which we can achieve our peak performance. The division of circadian rhythms comprises a variety of chronotypes that include persons with tendencies to be very early chronotypes (A-persons/early risers with earlier peak performance), and spans all the way to include persons who are very late chronotypes (B- persons/late risers with later peak performance).” [Source: http://www.b-society.org/pdf/B-society.pdf]

Why should late risers be restrained by the pre-established work hours, averagely from 9am to 5pm?  Why should schools start at 8am, if 80% of young people from 10 to 20 years old, according to B Society, are type B, which means they hit their peek performances in the afternoon or nighttime?  The idea defended by the group is to make it more flexible, so that early risers can continue with their routine, but late risers would have the option to start school or work at 10am, instead of 9am, and finish it later. Wouldn’t it be great if society recognize the differences between people and just embraced a more flexible work and study schedule?

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