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Liberal Arts Blog

SFU Continuing Studies

Personal Reflections on: “Reading Shakespeare: The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale”

December 18th, 2014

Perdita from Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale"

A picture is worth a thousand words but there are some names worth a thousand pictures.  Even though I’ve experienced limited contact with Shakespeare, just reading his name conjures up a whole world of images and expectations.  Expectations of wonderful characters immersed in fantastic stories of high adventure, political intrigue, deception, and slap stick comedy.  Expectations of colourful costumes and fanciful sets.  Expectations of brilliantly delivered lines of amazing complexity and rhythm flying by at a pace that leaves me simultaneously scratching my head and grinning in foolish delight.  All of this without an actor or decorated stage in sight.  So when SFU offered a course on reading Shakespeare, the opportunity of spending six weeks capturing some of these wonderful characters and stories in my head, without the possibility of them escaping offstage, was irresistible.

The reading journey through passages of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale is nearing its destination and the time has arrived to reflect on this experience.  How am I now connected with Shakespeare?  Do I understand Shakespeare any better?   Do I understand myself any better?  What possible relevance could two diverse assortments of 16th century characters and their power struggles have for me living in 21st century modernity?  Is there a kernel that joins our stories together?  Well, perhaps there is an impulse for all activity to draw into a central place.  My own activity is reading.   The plays’ activities are the interactions of stories and characters.  And we all meet up, occupying an imaginary circle within my consciousness.

So what is reading all about anyway?   The only activity is sitting in a chair (probably) looking at words in a book.  Assuming that I’m paying attention, there is a budding relationship unfolding between the author (let’s say Shakespeare for this example) and myself; there are one or more characters introducing themselves to me; there are events occurring that are pleasing or troubling these characters.  The interesting part of the story is: none of it is real.  Somehow the imagination of the author has jumped from his mind into my consciousness.  And it was all premeditated.  Of course, in picking up the book, I agreed to this transfer.  What I’m trying to say is the author and I have entered into a real and imaginary place where our minds blend into oneness.  A stage has been erected and Shakespeare and I are center stage acting out an imaginary life.  So now, what possible relevance could this have to the two plays we have been reading over these past six weeks?

Along with the complete and secret fantasy I’m privately enjoying with Shakespeare, there has been a meeting of minds in the physical world actually reading and interpreting The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale together and out loud.  We have come together in a circle for the purpose of understanding what the plays are saying to each and all of us.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest there is also a circle that draws all the characters into its center.  It’s a magic circle.   All of the The Tempest is magic and illusion.  Prospero is a magician.  The tempest is a storm in the characters’ imaginations, and almost everything else is either a concoction of spells or, at least, a significant break from realism.  If we were each personally following the procedures outlined in the play, we would find them completely ineffective in our daily interactions.  Yet there is definitely a purpose or a problem demanding resolution.  And that problem is: on this unknown magic island there are four groups of self absorbed and lost people who must somehow transcend their limited vision so they might know the truth and return home.  Being human, they are unable to think their way out of their predicaments which, in this case, make no sense at all.  It is only through the coercion of spirits summoned by Prospero with magic spells and threats that the veil is lifted and all four disparate groups meet in the harmony of the magic circle from which they can all peacefully return home as a functional unit of civilization.  The circle is, once again, whole.

In The Winter’s Tale there is another storm.  A storm perhaps even more sinister than the magical gale in The Tempest.  It’s a storm of raging jealousy, viciously blowing to shreds all remnants of reason in the mind of Leontes, King of Sicilia.  This storm has also displaced members of Leontes’ once peaceful kingdom.  Losing control of his reason has, in effect, fragmented the identities of his daughter, his wife, his best friend, and his trusted advisor.  It has also left Leontes and Sicilia without a legitimate heir to the throne and the prospect of a stable future.  They all must return to the circle of a harmonious kingdom to regain their personal and cultural legitimacy.

In order for all the characters to return to the circle of the harmonious kingdom they must enter their own individual inner circles of self knowledge and harmony.  Leontes must understand the nature of his jealousy, moving from his Hyper Zone of Arousal into his balanced center or Window of Tolerance where he can transcend his pride and rule from a place of wisdom and compassion.  He must trust the oracle and live from a place that encompasses the combined wisdom of his kingdom.  Hermione must leave her Hypo Zone of Arousal breaking free of her numbing statue to join her husband.  Perdita must discover her true identity as Leontes legitimate heir.  The split in the alliance between Sicilia and Bohemia must be mended through the unblemished and legitimate union of Perdita and Florizel.  Camillo must regain his homeland and rightful place as wise royal advisor.  Through the passage of time and the endurance and power of love and forgiveness, all this is accomplished and the factions are able to return to their home circle and all is once again whole.

Now, as the curtain falls and the actors are taking their final bows, our Shakespearean reading circle is about to break and become a memory.  A memory of Shakespeare`s meditation on humanity; his era; his artistry; his ability to reach through the fabric of time and touch each one of us in combined and personal ways; and, most of all, a memory of another circle that will never dissolve.  A circle that is always intact and lively with the voices of Shakespeare and his marvellous cast of characters alive and interacting with me any time I snuggle into my favourite wing backed chair, open the pages, and begin, once again, reading Shakespeare.

Andrea Bourne

Andrea is a passionate life long learner with a particular dedication to the humanities.  When not traveling in the geography of ideas, she’s out exploring and revelling in the world of nature.

Fun With Song and Dance

December 2nd, 2014

Take 3 friends who love song and dance routines, old movies, and famous singers. Add Neil Richie’s classes and what have you got- fun, fun, fun! From Dancin’:Choreographers (2014) to Divos and Divas (2015), there’s always something new to learn. One friend, a Lions and Canucks fan, saw Bob Fosse in New York. The second friend lived through the geometrically designed dance numbers of the early 20th century, and saw Ella Fitzgerald at The Cave. The third friend has Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” on her phone, and watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Vancouver. All 3 love Broadway musicals, opera, jazz and the Big Band sound. Come join us on Fri. Jan. 9, 2015 for an enchanting 6 weeks of jazz, opera, and pop music.

Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.

How to impress your impossible-to-impress kids

November 25th, 2014

Let me be very clear:  my grown kids – two daughters, one son-in-law, two golden retrievers  – and I are this close.

But because I spent most of my working career in the advertising business, they take everything I say with a grain of salt.  They often accuse me of ‘confabulation’, or ‘exaggeration’, or even ‘creating a commercial’ with just about every story I tell.

And they roll their eyes.

But I got ‘em, thanks to an Underwater Archaeology class given by Robyn Woodward, an adjunct professor in SFU’s archaeology department, who spends a whole lot of time exploring shipwrecks.

Here’s the Coles Notes version:

Sometime in the First Century AD, Emperor Caligula, one of the most debauched rulers of a debauched Rome, ordered himself a pair of luxurious pleasure barges, to float on sacred volcanic Lake Nemi, just 30 km south of the city. He had the barges fitted with the best mosaics, marble, and even on-board Roman baths. But something went wrong, the barges sank to the bottom, preserved for centuries in the cold, clear water of Lake Nemi.

Benito’s bathtub: unplugged.

Then, some 1900 years later, along came Benito Mussolini, who had the chutzpah to order Lake Nemi drained, just like a giant bathtub, dropping the water level some 20 metres (66 feet) until Caligula’s floating palaces were exposed. Restoration work on the barges went on even during the war. Reports are that the Americans very carefully avoided bombing the site, but on May 31, 1944, about two hours after the retreating Germans had left the area, a mysterious fire destroyed the entire site.

Dr. Woodward told us this story. And I told it to the kids over Sunday family dinner. At first, they were all ears. After all, it’s a helluva story.

But when I got to the part about the fire, that was too much. They just didn’t buy it.

“Go ahead,”, I said, a little smugly,  “Google it, and see for yourself.”

Out came the laptop. Click, click, open Google. And there it was:  the story of the Lake Nemi barges.

“Wow”, said hard-to-impress daughter number two, “It really happened.  Google says so.”

My believability stock shot up.  Thanks, Dr. Woodward.

Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

The Lifelong Brain

November 21st, 2014

Evidence about the capacity of the brain to keep learning and growing across the ages keeps growing. Research from Cambridge University in England adds to the growing weight of evidence that age is no barrier to continued learning.

Second Careers and Lifelong Learning

November 10th, 2014

Today’s Globe and Mail in its “Second Careers” section provides a profile of Ulrike Rodriguez, 53, who recently completed a trip around southern B.C. on a motorbike. She’s off to India soon to write a book. This intrepid woman lives simply, has no intention of retiring, and is confident that whatever her professional situation she can retrain for a new career. Her advice for others: “Be curious. Be passionate. Keep Learning.”

Chuffed about Chocolate!

October 27th, 2014

Wouldn’t it be great if things that tasted great were also good for you? Well it turns out that that chocolate you’ve guiltily been nibbling isn’t just delicious, it can also improve your memory, according to a scientist at Columbia University–Scott A. Small. While the study contains certain caveats–going out and buying lots of Mars bars may do more to expand your waist than your memory–it is nonetheless a new bit of evidence that not everything that tastes delicious is also bad for you. So next time you feel a craving for that 85% real chocolate bar, go right ahead. You might begin to remember how delicious it tastes! For the full story, see the story in The New York Times here.

Cool & Weird: South Africa

October 17th, 2014

Tricia Sirrs writes about her experience in one of our fall 2014 classes: South Africa: From Colony to Rainbow Nation, taught by Richard Harvey.

The evolution of South Africa: through the eyes of someone who was there.

Those of us registered in Richard Harvey’s From Colony to Rainbow Nation, the story of South Africa, really won the instructor lottery. He (along with his parents and his grandparents) lived through it all.

He’s seen the wild animal preserves, the grasslands, the diamond mines, and the townships. He’s experienced the tensions between the white (European) farmers and the black (African) labourers. And he’s heard the music.

He knows how the Dutch and British settlers took ruthless advantage of the unsophisticated indigenous people living in what is now the Union of South Africa.

And he’s seen the societal breakdown that comes from poverty and joblessness, even in a country blessed with some of the richest diamond and gold resources on the planet.

Now he’s here, making the history of that faraway country come alive to those of us fortunate enough to be listening to him in a classroom in downtown Vancouver.

Professor Harvey grew up in South Africa under apartheid – brutally-enforced separation and stratification of the races. The Europeans (whites) owned the land, owned the mines, and governed the country as they pleased. The blacks owned nothing, not even a vote.

Basically, to be a black African, was to be invisible. A pair of hands and a strong back: a wage slave. That’s all.

(When Professor Harvey came to Canada in 1997, he said he was “astonished” to see white men actually working as labourers on road and construction crews.)

Most of us remember the day in 1994 that Nelson Mandela walked free. And most of us shared the hope that what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the ‘Rainbow Nation’- where so many peoples would live in peace – would flourish.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, Dr. Tutu reportedly has wondered aloud if the name he gave his country is still valid.

Without another Mandela miracle, more tensions and troubles undoubtedly lie ahead.

Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

Cool & Weird: Okay, So the World Seems to be Going to Hell in a Wheelbarrow. . .

October 15th, 2014

Tricia Sirrs writes about her experience in one of our fall 2014 classes: The Politics of Financial Crises, taught by Ted Cohn.

Okay, So the World Seems to be Going to Hell in a Wheelbarrow. . .

But now, thanks to Professor Ted Cohn’s course on The Politics of Financial Crises, at least I have some very basic understanding of how we all got into this mess.

Follow the money.

Who’s got it. Who used to have it. And who intends to have it next.

Because with money, comes power and influence. And that power and influence are shifting under our feet these days.

Of course that’s an over-simplification. And of course we can’t blame all the woes we watch on the news every night on simple greed. Global woes like the ISIS crisis; Ebola; Russia’s annexation of Crimea and moving in on the rebel / puppet ‘statelet’ of Eastern Ukraine; downed passenger jets; hundreds of thousands of refugees; climate change; etc., etc.

The list goes on and on.

But neither is all this happening just because Mr. Putin was / is an empire-hungry bully. Nor is it mostly the work of dozens of terrorist splinter groups – whose names all sound the same – with axes to grind, machetes to swing, and missiles to launch, against anything and anybody remotely connected with the West and the Western way of thinking.

Not big oil, big banks, or big government. Not religion. Not Wall Street, Bay Street or Fleet Street. And not conflicting isms; bursting bubbles; austerity cutbacks, stimulus spending; or any country caught cooking the books (Hello, Greece).

These are all both symptoms and ‘accelerants’ in the current global power shift. And the whole volatile mix is enough to keep us up all night.

It’s somewhat reassuring to remember that financial crises are not exactly new: they’ve been happening regularly since sometime in the 13th century. But it seems the world hasn’t learned anything much in all that time.

So just watch what happens in the next few months. Power and influence is moving – and moving fast – away from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Now it’s China and, to a lesser extent Korea and India, calling the global economic shots.

The power shift is not surprising. After all, China practically single-handedly restored global economic stability in the face of the world wide meltdown of 2007-08. Some would say they’ve definitely earned the right to be top dog.

And apparently it’s just dawning on the Europeans that they’re going to have to make some changes in their economic policies and practices if they want to keep their heads above water in this new reality.

Another sign of shifting power: The G20, formed in 1999 and which includes the emerging Asian and BRIC countries, has now effectively replaced the G8 (reduced to the G7 when Russia is being punished and suspended for bullying), as the forum for global economic decision-making.

It’s a fascinating class. Watch the international news in the evening, then have it interpreted in class the next morning. Any class Professor Cohn teaches, sign me up.

Oh, and one tasty tidbit: it seems France was thoroughly ticked off (to put it politely) when in 1976, the U.S. brought Canada into what was then the G6. Apparently the French didn’t think we were worthy. Again.

Tricia has written everything from ad copy to annual reports, from websites to speeches, and from film scripts to here’s-to-you toasts. She moved here from Calgary six years ago, and has been taking classes at SFU ever since. She’s now thinking of starting another business: ghost-writing family “legacy” biographies.

Cool & Weird: Calling all film buffs!

October 13th, 2014

Lorna Court writes about her experience in one of our fall 2014 classes: Dancin: Choreographers from Hollywood and Broadway, taught by Neil Ritchie.

We all love Hollywood trivia, and with Neil Ritchie’s course on Choreographers (Sept/Oct 2014) only half over, I’ve already picked up some gems. For instance –

Who should we thank for the interesting camera angles that we take for granted in modern movies? A choreographer named Busby Berkeley! It was the early 1930s, and until Busby arrived on the scene the camera was considered a stand-in for the audience, so it was positioned accordingly – front and centre, and completely stationary. But Busby’s artistic vision required movement and flexibility. He used his dancers to create patterns, often kaleidoscope-like, which were best appreciated from above – or below. In order to achieve this he needed to free the camera (which he operated himself). Talk about thinking “outside” the box, his thoughts required such a bird’s eye view that he and the camera spent much of their time perched 70 feet above the stage. (I don’t know if he invented the safety harness, but he certainly used one! More than once Busby would be so intent on capturing the perfect angle that he’d step right off the filming platform and find himself dangling at the end of his lifeline, requiring his assistant to reel him back to safety.) Once Busby started moving the camera, there was no limit to his imagination. He positioned tap dancers on transparent platforms in order to shoot from below. He shot through legs. He shot swimmers from below. He even experimented by running film sequences backwards. (If his name doesn’t ring a bell, watch GOLD DIGGERS 1935 or FOOTLIGHT PARADE for a taste of his work.)

Ever wonder about the genesis of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ romantic routines? Ginger wasn’t even on-set! Instead Fred and his close friend and choreographer, Hermes Panagiotopoulos spent weeks dancing in each other’s arms in a deserted sound stage creating the steps. Only once the dance was complete would Ginger arrive, relying on Hermes who was used to dancing her part, to teach her the steps.

Where did Bob Fosse get his start? In KISS ME KATE (1953), with Ann Miller. Hermes was the movie’s choreographer, but he let a very young Fosse create 38 seconds of original dance within one of Hermes’ pieces. If you’re a Fosse fan, check it out! His style was distinctive, even then.

Lorna came to the 55+ program with an arts education and a business background, so is now revelling in as wide an array of courses from other disciplines as possible — Physics to Fashion, Astronomy to Archeology.  (She says it’s incredibly liberating to know these are courses that it’s impossible to fail!)  As a Headhunter Lorna conducted thousands of interviews, examining the  backstories behind the events and choices that shape people’s lives.  The same curiosity led her to these courses, and she finds them addictive!

Cool & Weird: Bioelectronics, Medical Imaging and Our Bodies

October 9th, 2014

Sue Robinson writes about her experience in one of our fall 2014 classes: Bioelectronics, Medical Imaging and Our Bodies, taught by Maryse de la Giroday.

Interested in the advancements of technology and how it may help the 55+ group? The bioelectronics course currently being offered deals with recent projects/research.

Did you know that the first “bionic” eye was approved for patients in the USA in 2013? Physicists (in 2014) have now developed an interface (of this Argus II Retina) to the optic nerve. Cornell University has bioengineered a 3D ear. Washington State can print bone on a 3D printer.

A man with a nano competent synthetic trachea is still alive a year and a half later. Knee cartilage is printed out using an ink jet printer.

Better glaucoma treatments pair a smart phone with an eye implant to improve the way doctors measure and lower a patient’s eye pressure.

A better “power” knee for going upstairs has been developed. Xenon gas is currently being used to help PTSD patients. The latest research from Mexico is on a 5 second x ray which doesn’t use film.

A graphene-based wearable sensor developed at the University of Michigan detects acetone (for a possible diabetes diagnosis) or nitric oxide and oxygen (for possible lung disease, anemia, high blood pressure). Wearable technology includes a Ralph Lauren sports shirt which reads heartbeat and respiration.

An electronic “skin” made of 3 layers of gel nanoparticles and 2 layers of cadmium sulphide separated by 9 layers of polymers can detect lumps in breasts.

Through technology such as MRIs & PET scans, we have (in 2009) learned that: our brain has 86 billion neurons, we use all of our brain all of the time (not just 10%), we use both sides of our brain (so we are not totally left-brained or right-brained). Massive amounts of data are coming in from BRAIN, Human Brain Project and CBRAIN (Canada).

Robotic police directing traffic in the Congo were developed by a woman (to assist train engineers).

“Reserve” cells in our body can be attracted to the site of an injury. A 67 year old regrew the end of his finger in 8 weeks. Through regenerative medicine research, we have learned that we can replace 5-6 inches of the tissue in the esophagus in a lab situation. Companies are working on regeneration of bladders. A skin “gun” can spray a burned patient’s own cells in solution which can regenerate skin much faster than before.

On October 1, 2014, scientists found a stem cell reservoir in the human eye. We can culture cells in a “dish” but also on a computer chip the size of a microscopic slide. Chips are cheaper, better, more humane.

March, 2013 saw the EU ban cosmetic testing on animals. China followed in 2014. Tekmira, in North Vancouver, has sent vaccines for Ebola to Africa, making it, in essence, a human clinical trial (which I hope can be tested in a different in the future).

If you liked what you have read here, please join us in the Nanotechnology Course starting on Oct 23 and ending on Nov 27, 2014.

PS The prof. is an expert in nanotechnology.

The Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ program will be offering a class titled “Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea” by Maryse de la Giroday in the second session of Fall 2014. Register for the course now!

Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.