Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Speaking of convocation speeches, none other has delivered a more stirring message in recent years than former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. As a tribute to the exuberance and inspiration he has brought us through his iconic products, let us revisit the famous lines he delivered at Stanford University back in 2005. At the same time, we wish him, from the bottom of our hearts, the best of health.

Friendly Tip: Jobs starts his speech at 7:40.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Three Useful Phrases in Life

After a long sojourn, Lavender Country is back today to share with you the following passage adapted from a convocation speech by communications professor, and now president of The University of Southern Mississippi, Martha Dunagin Saunders:

In the Department of Communication Arts we spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about words—the meaning of words, the persuasive value of words, the ethical implications of words and, generally, the impact of words as they are delivered in messages among people. Yet the most important messages that humans deliver to one another are usually expressed in very simple terms. Today, I share with you three three-word phrases that I have found useful in my life.

The first three-word phrase I’ve found useful in life is this: I’ll be there. Have you ever thought about what a balm those three words can create?

I’ll be there. If you’ve ever had to call for a plumber over a weekend you know how really good these words can feel. Or if you’ve been stranded on the road with car trouble and used your last quarter to call a friend, you know how good those words can be. Think about them:
“Grandma, I’m graduating in August!” I’ll be there.
“Roommate, I’m stuck at the office and can’t get to the airport to meet my sister!” I’ll be there.
“Mom, the baby cries all night and if I don’t get some sleep I’ll perish!” I’ll be

Recently I was talking with a local business person who is occasionally in a position to hire UWF graduates, and she told me the single most impressive thing a job candidate can do is to demonstrate a real interest in the well-being of that business. Someone who will help further the objectives of that organization, whether or not he or she is “on the clock” is going to be a valuable person. In other words, be somebody who will be there.

One of my favorite stories about someone who knew how to “be there” is told of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of England, who was asked whether the little princesses (Elizabeth and Margaret Rose) would leave England after the Blitz of 1940. The queen replied:
“The children will not leave England unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances whatever.” I’ll be there.

The second three-word phrase I want to present to you is perhaps the hardest to learn to say—I know it was for me and sometimes still is. That is, maybe you’re right.

Think about it. If more people were to learn to say maybe you’re right the marriage counselors would be out of business and, with a little luck, the gun shops. I know from experience it can have a disarming effect on an opponent in an argument. In fact, one of my lawyer friends uses it often in his closing remarks—and he is a very successful lawyer. Maybe you’re right.

It has been my experience that when we get so hung up on getting our own way that we will not concede on any point, we are doing ourselves a real disservice. Make life a little easier on yourself. Remember the old saying—“There are a hundred ways to skin a cat—and every single one of them is right.” Maybe you’re right.

The third phrase I want to introduce to you I must have heard a thousand times when I was a little girl. Whenever I was faced with a hard decision I would turn to my caregiver and ask what I should do. Her response was always the same three-letter
word phrase—“Your heart knows”—then she would go on about what she was doing.

“My heart knows?” I would think to myself. “What’s that supposed to mean? I
need advice here. I need for you to tell me what to do.”
She would just smile and say, “Your heart knows, honey, your heart knows.”
But as I was an imperious child, I would throw my hand on my hip and say,
“Maybe so, but my heart isn’t talking!”
To this she would respond—“Learn to listen.”

This brings me to the point of my speech. You know, life doesn’t come in the form of a degree plan. There’s no Great Advisor out there who will give you a checklist and say, “Do these things and you’ll earn your degree in ‘life.’”

To some extent, the page is blank now. You may have a rough outline of where you’re headed, but I can assure you, you won’t get there without having to make some tough decisions—and decision making is never easy.  You may be able to find people to suggest what you should do, but for the most part, no one will be willing to accept the responsibility for your mistakes. You’ll have to make your own choices.

My advice to you today is to learn to listen to your heart. The psychologists call this “turning into our subconscious.” Spiritual leaders call it “turning to a higher power.” Whatever you call it, there is an ability in each of you to find the right answers for your life. It’s there and it’s a powerful gift that all the education or degrees in the world can’t acquire for you. You’ve had it all along—now, you’re going to have to use it. In “The Bending of the Bough,” George Moore wrote: “The difficulty in life is the
choice.” Choose well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (3)

Friendly warning again: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.  

The finale in the three-part series is here at long last ... ...

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Finally, the chapters whence-forth Snape was to let himself be loathed by all: The Lightning-Struck Tower and The Flight of the Prince. Whereas up till then, he had to overcome his negativities to perform good, Snape now had to act in spite of his good side. In order to save Dumbledore from a painful and undignified death at the hands of the likes of bloodthirsty werewolf Greyback Fenrir and manic Voldemort-worshiper Bellatrix Lestrange and to protect Draco, Snape was forced, under the directions from Dumbledore himself, to kill with his own hands the headmaster who had guided him to the right path and helped him to fulfill Lily's mission for the past 15 years. It was certainly a task Snape carried out with immense torment - hatred and revulsion etched in the harsh lines on his face, like how Harry hated himself and revolted when forcing Dumbledore to take Voldemort's toxic liquid just a chapter ago. Yet, in spite of his inner suffering, he had to continue his act as a traitor, profound pain throbbing on deep within him, like he were Hagrid's dog trapped in the burning hut.

With his own wand, he had also destroyed the only person who knew of his unwavering true allegiance and condemned himself a betrayer and unfeeling Death Eater, subjecting himself now on top of a merciless and heartless Dark master on one side danger from his own real allies, including his charge Harry, this time round.

Nonetheless, when Harry attacked him as he was making his escape from Hogwarts, Snape did not forget to dispense his last guiding pointers to Harry: practise Occlumency, master non-verbal spells, stay away from Dark Magic. A teacher he was till the end.

Of note too was that Snape stopped a Death Eater from exacting the Cruciatus Curse on Harry, bellowing as he did. He himself did not fight back either when Harry was hurling spells at him. This extraordinary pursuit scene, so unlike that which deluged dramas and films common in these days, gave food for thought on the true meanings of courage and cowardice. Conventional wisdom has it that fighting equates bravery and scampering, cowardice. Snape has made us look beyond that superficial display of courage and ponder: perhaps the act of not fighting back in order to uphold an ideal and bracing for humiliation instead, is the real manifestation of courage.

In the last book of the series, the Deathly Hallows, Snape became the headmaster of Hogwarts. On pretense of suppressing dissidents, he re-enacted the anti-student group decree issued by the Inspector he detested, in order to protect the students. When Dumbledore's Army schemed to steal the (fake) Sword of Gryffindor, he carted it off to Gringotts to prevent the DA members from risking more punishment. When students got into trouble, he sent them for detentions with Hagrid, even though he knew the latter's allegiance very well, so that they could escape the more cruel alternatives by the Carrows. To deliver the actual Sword of Gryffindor to Harry, he got Phineas Nigellus Black to track his location, and then sent the patronus that represented Lily to Harry to guide him to the sword all without the young wizard's knowledge.

Harry stared at the creature, filled with wonder, not at her strangeness, but at her inexplicable familiarity. He felt that he had been waiting for her to come, but that he had forgotten, until this moment, that they had arranged to meet. His impulse to shout for Hermione, which had been so strong a moment ago, had gone. He knew, he would have staked his life on it, that she had come for him, and him alone.

When news of Harry's return to Hogwarts got to Snape, Snape got into action to track Harry down so that he could shield him from Voldemort. On top of that, knowing Harry's affinity for Dumbledore, Snape set the password to the Headmaster's Office to the former headmaster's name so that Harry could seek counsel from Dumbledore easily.

Snape finally had his long-expected fate coming to him, when Voldemort, capricious and holding no regard for his followers' welfare, took his life meaninglessly for a most astoundingly selfish purpose. In his final moments, Snape underwent a painful and protracted death as he struggled vigorously in spite of his wound and draining energy to deliver his last mission to Harry.

That was Professor Severus Snape. Headmaster and protector of a school which collectively misunderstood him. Teacher and guardian to the end of a boy whom he never liked and who himself deeply loathed him. All for his lifelong undying and unconditional pure love of a woman who will never love him in return. And all that he asked for as he departed from this world was to look at her eyes once more.

"Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."

—Harry Potter to his son in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (2)

Friendly warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.  

Continuing from where we left off last week ...

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The Goblet of Fire marked the return of Voldemort to power. Here, we saw Snape's extreme unwillingness to have others know or recall about his past as a Death Eater. However, when Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge stubbornly refused to acknowledge Voldemort's return, Snape walked up and revealed his reappeared Death Mark before Fudge's eyes, in full view of teachers, parents and students around, including those who might not have known of his past identity otherwise —— once again sacrificing his valued dignity for a noble cause. Unlike fellow deflected Death Eater Karkaroff, Snape was unshaken in his resolution to stay on in Hogwarts to continue his mission for Dumbledore, Lily and Harry, mentally preparing himself to face the wrath of Voldemort. Finally, on the order of Dumbledore, Snape returned to Voldemort, knowing he was already branded a traitor, knowing the Dark Lord's intolerance of disloyalty, knowing his arduous task ahead, and —— knowing the cruel fate that awaited him if Voldemort failed to be convinced. Thus, in spite of the fears brewing inside him, Snape re-embarked on a treacherous journey as a double agent, putting himself in constant mortal danger from then on.

In the next title, The Order of the Phoenix, Snape undertook the task of imparting the skill of Occlumency to Harry, giving him a peek into some of Harry's most unpleasant memories. Harry noted that Snape took the chance to mock at him when Snape inquired who the dog threatening Harry in one of the memories involving the Dursleys belonged to. On closer inspection though, Snape's selection of the memory to remark about was most intriguing. Why did he focus on a dog when he could have inflicted worse hurt by jeering at Harry's fragility in face of the dementors or teasing about the kiss with Cho Chang? No doubt Snape might not have gotten a proper view of those more embarrassing scenes, but why didn't J.K. Rowling let him if that was the case? There is hence a possibility that Snape was actually concerned about the Dursleys' ill-treatment of Harry. This first-hand insight into Harry's muggle life might have partly contributed to Dumbledore's confrontation scene with the Dursleys in the book to follow.

Speaking of the next book, The Half-Blood Prince was the start of another tragic tribulation for Snape. Before that though, like in The Chamber of Secrets, Snape was again the teacher to meet Harry at the gates when the young wizard failed to arrive at Hogwarts with the rest of the students, quietly forsaking his dinner at the school-opening feast while waiting for his safe arrival. Disliking Harry as he was, Snape still kept a silent lookout for him during his arrival at the start of each school year, holding a vigil for him on an empty stomach when he failed to arrive with the others, and punishing him after he finally appeared in hope that Harry would not place himself in such danger again. Even though all these were misconstrued as bullying antics by almost everyone else.

A strict disciplinarian Snape was however, unlike Dolores Umbridge and the Carrows, he never resorted to corporeal punishment. Instead, what was the most physically excruciating task he assigned Harry in the name of cruel punishment? Flobberworms, probably the most harmless magical creatures around.

It is also in this year that Snape rescued a number of people from death or severe injury: Dumbledore, Katie Bell and Draco Malfoy. This marks a significant difference between Snape and some ordinary Dark Arts fanatic. Unlike Crabbe and the Carrows, Snape devoted efforts to the defence of the Dark Arts as well, studying the means of undoing their damage. A not very obvious aspect of Snape's personality was also in play. From his fine feminine-like handwriting, his notes-laden potions textbook, his devotion to his studies and research, his mastery of the subtle art of Potions and the elaborate charms he performed with a high concentration on Dumbledore and Draco, it can be sensed that underneath Snape's cold and harsh exterior was a thoughtful and caring soul after all.

Tata for the night and remember to come back for the concluding piece in the series!

"Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns."
"Does he?" said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. "And are you tempted to join him?"
"No," said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur's and Roger's retreating figures. "I am not such a coward."
"No," agreed Dumbledore."You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon..." He walked away, leaving Snape looking stricken...

Dumbledore: "Don't be shocked, Severus. How many men and women have you watched die?"
Snape: "Lately, only those whom I could not save."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (1)

Friendly warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.

So far, we have shared with you two selections of the most enlightening and heartstrings-tugging lines from the phenomenal Harry Potter series. It is oft-quoted, however, that actions speak louder than words. Even more precious than loud actions though, are deeds performed in muted silence, heard by no one and seeking no witness. The most sanguine and noble acts in the books are those which did not manifest themselves as words or even get clearly depicted in ink. They took place in shadows and even under guises portraying otherwise, the warmth and earnestness in them stirring quietly in the heart, unspoken, unseen, unknown, but nonetheless undeterred. Welcome to the written yet never fully uttered tale of the Half-Blood Prince. While waiting for the full unveiling of the Pottermore site, tonight, let us trace after the steps of the elusive prince, who like his ethereal silver doe, leaves no footprint after him.

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 Born to a family living in abject poverty, its problems compounded by domestic violence, Severus Snape had a tumultuous childhood. His parents were constantly quarreling, with him watching on in pain as his father abused his mother. Woefully under-cared for as a child, he was poorly groomed and socially awkward in both demeanor and appearance. As a consequence, Snape was taunted by both Muggles and wizarding folks alike, the latter even attacking him relentlessly in what was otherwise his new-found shelter at Hogwarts. These long years of oppression first drove him to the Dark Arts, then eventually into the open arms of Voldemort's movement, which championed rights to the dis-empowered as a lure into their forces. His disenfranchisement with the movement came on later, but in a most excruciating way, in the process exacting a painful price he would never recover: the loss of the love of his life.

When Snape realized that Voldemort intended to kill the Potters' son, he was aghast at how Lily Potter's safety was being endangered. In spite of Voldemort's notorious cruelty to those who disobeyed him, Snape fled off to warn Dumbledore, the first risk to his own safety that he would come to repeat for time and again for the next sixteen years. At Dumbledore's demand of what he would give in return for the protection of Lily, he made up his mind —— "Anything."

After the devastating death of Lily, Snape took on the task of her son to fulfill her mission, as persuaded by Dumbledore, beginning an epic to be played out in seven books. Yet, he never liked Harry, seeing him as the shadow of the arrogant and bullying James Potter. Harry's striking resemblance to this boy who had tormented him repeatedly, in front of a large jeering crowd, and just for the sake of easing his buddy's boredom, made matters doubly worse. Nevertheless, he shouldered on the mission till his death, acting against his prejudice and hatred.

In Harry's first year, Snape prevented Quirrell from cursing Harry off his broom in the first Quidditch match. In the second match, he volunteered to referee, an act which remarkability could only be fully appreciated four books later, for it was only then that we learnt from his memories about his severe lack of aptitude for broom-riding. So in fact, he had faced the prospoect of humiliation by the throngs of charges under him, in his bid to be up close to protect Harry, even though that might not have been necessary as Dumbledore had turned up for the event to deter Quirrell from action.

However, Snape's heart for empathy beneath his cold and harsh exterior was not limited to Lily and Harry. In the Chamber of Secrets, Snape quietly worried for the student said to be captured by the heir of Slytherin, just as he was secretly alarmed when Harry demonstrated proficiency in Parseltongue, a trait shared by dark and dangerous wizards associated with Slytherin. The uncharacteristic grip on the back of the chair, like the odd look at Harry in the dueling club incident, was an early glimpse into his true psyche.

In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape opposed the appointment of Remus Lupin, whom he suspected of being sympathetic to the 'killer' Sirius Black, widely known to have led to the Potters' death. This and his long-held suspicion that Lupin had colluded in the nearly fatal prank Sirius pulled on him as schoolboys, deepened his dislike for Lupin. Despite these misgivings though, Snape was fair in his actions to Lupin. As a schoolboy, he did not divulge Lupin's identity as a werewolf to anyone - in spite of his near-death experience with Lupin and the latter's affiliation with James and Sirius. Not even to Lily, who did not appreciate that Snape was nearly killed by Sirius. As a teacher, Snape did not spread his doubts about Lupin among the students, trying instead to hide these concerns from Head Prefect Percy when the latter listened in to his discussion with Dumbledore about Lupin. On the contrary, Snape concocted the Wolfbane potion for Lupin meticulously and perfectly every month, keeping him in good health, even though he could have easily sabotaged the concoction to make life difficult for Lupin. Things did not stop there. When Snape found the Marauders' Map from Harry, he immediately summoned Lupin, whom he knew to be a Marauder, for questioning. Yet, in the whole process, he threw off only cryptic questions, not revealing his real suspicion of Lupin's gift of the map to Harry. Snape blew off only when he misunderstood that Lupin was realy on Sirius's side in the end, finally leaking Lupin's identity to the students. Also of note in this book was Snape's secret alarm when he saw Harry in a one-to-one proximity with Lupin, who he thought might be in cahoots with Harry's 'would-be murderer', Sirius.

Before we end the night, JK Rowling wrote in her book that, 'If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.' How about his enemies then? In contrast to the sloppy and undignified way the trio, Lupin and Sirius allowed Snape to be suspended and bumped around while he was unconscious, Snape took care to conjure up stretchers for everyone and lift them one by one onto them when they met the same fate, even though three of them had just knocked him unsound a short while ago and one of them, the ‘murderer’ of his beloved.

That’s all for today and we shall continue on another night. Sleep tight and remember to come back for the next article!

"...asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death."
--Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. (Asphodel: a plant belonging to the family of lilies, Wormwood: characterized by bitterness)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Best-Read Articles in Lavender Country

In the flash of an eye, Lavender Country has passed the half-year mark, serving its readers with fun tidbits, heart-melting anecdotes and inspirational stories along the way for the past six months. Let's take a look at our top five most-read articles so far:

In fifth position is Sweeping Away Fallen Leaves .... and Nightly Blues... : love blossoms quietly amid fallen leaves. A piece on the surprisingly sedative effects of cleaning. Self-help can be available at just the tips of our fingers.

Tying for fourth place are 手帕般的邂逅 A Kind of Meeting Like a Handkerchief and The Story Behind Lavender Country .  The kinds of relationships that feed on us like parasites, in contrast to those that nurture us - in other words, relationships that should not be held illusions of and relationships that should be held close to heart; and the motivation behind this website, along with the atmosphere it aspires to evoke.

For runner-up, we have Why haven't we seen them? 为何没看见?: Another  romantic piece, this time inspired by two people who were once equally pure and innocent at heart. An essay on life's oft-neglected simple pleasures and a reminder to stop and smell the roses.

Finally, *drum roll*  at the top place is ....
A Tale of Two Rats ! A  pair of star-crossed rodent lovers, or so it seems. Tribulation sometimes acts out only in our minds.

It looks like  The Story Behind Lavender Country  is the only post without a romance element. We sure need a dose of enchanting love - that which transforms our souls and uplift our spirits - in our lives.

Do you agree with the majority picks? What is your personal favorite? Drop us a note below and let us know! And not to forget, happy reading for the remaining months of the year ahead~

Lavender Country

Monday, June 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Sacred Words

After the list of quotes of wisdom from Dumbledore, we bring you a recap of two memorable and touching scenes from the Harry Potter series this week in commemoration of the Year of Harry Potter, an epic of love and bravery.

 Friendly warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have finished all seven books.

ƸӜƷ *...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...*...* ...*...* ƸӜƷ

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Phoenix Lament

Harry felt Ginny move beside him and looked at her. Her slightly narrowed eyes were fixed upon Fleur, who was gazing down at Bill with a frozen expression on her face.

'Dumbledore gone,' whispered Mr Weasley, but Mrs Weasley had eyes only for her eldest son; she began to sob, tears falling on to Bill's mutilated face.

'Of course, it doesn't matter how he looks ... it's not r - really important ... but he was a very handsome little b - boy ... always very handsome ... and he was g - going to be married!'
'And what do you mean by zat?' said Fleur suddenly and loudly. 'What do you mean, 'e was going to be married?'
Mrs Weasley raised her tear-stained face, looking startled.

'Well - only that -'
'You theenk Bill will not wish to marry me any more?' demanded Fleur. 'You theenk, because of zees bites, he vill not love me?'
'No, that's not what I -'
 'Because 'e will!' said Fleur, drawing herself up to her full height and throwing back her long mane of silver hair. 'It would take more zan a werewolf to stop Bill loving me!'
'Well, yes, I'm sure,' said Mrs Weasley, 'but I thought perhaps - given how - how he -'
'You thought I would not weesh to marry him? Or per'aps, you 'oped?' said Fleur, her nostrils flaring. 'What do I care how 'e looks? I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave! And I shall do zat!' she added fiercely, pushing Mrs Weasley aside and snatching the ointment from her.

Mrs Weasley fell back against her husband and watched Fleur mopping up Bill's wounds with a most curious expression upon her face. Nobody said anything; Harry did not dare move. Like everybody else, he was waiting for the explosion.

'Our Great Aunt Muriel,' said Mrs Weasley after a long pause, 'has a very beautiful tiara - goblin-made - which I am sure I could persuade her to lend you for the wedding. She is very fond of Bill, you know, and it would look lovely with your hair.'

;Thank you,' said Fleur stiffly. 'I am sure zat will be lovely.'

And then - Harry did not quite see how it happened - both women were crying and hugging each other. Completely bewildered, wondering whether the world had gone mad, he turned round: Ron looked as stunned as Harry felt and Ginny and Hermione were exchanging startled looks.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Prince's Tale

Shouted Snape, 'Expecto patronum!'

From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: she landed on the office door, bounded once across the office and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.

'After all this time?'

'Always,' said Snape.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guess How Much I Love You, not us of course! Though we assure you we sure love you a lot for dropping a visit here! Rather, in celebration of Father's Day, Lavender Country brings you this beautiful classic about father-child bonding. Enjoy ~ and a happy Father's Day to all fathers around!

ƸӜƷ *...*...*...*...GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU...*...*...* ...*...* ƸӜƷ

©1994 Sam McBratney

Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare's very long ears. He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening.

"Guess how much I love you," he said.

"Oh, I don't think I could guess that," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

"This much," said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go.

Big Nutbrown Hare had even longer arms. "But I love you THIS MUCH," he said.

Hmm, that is a lot, thought Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you as high as I can reach." said Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you as high as I can reach," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

That is quite high, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I had arms like that.

Then Little Nutbrown Hare had a good idea. He tumbled upside down and reached up the tree trunk with his feet.

"I love you all the way up to my toes!" he said.

"And I love you all the way up to your toes," said Big Nutbrown Hare, swinging him up over his head.

"I love you as high as I can HOP!" laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.

"But I love you as high as I can hop," smiled Big Nutbrown Hare - and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

That's good hopping, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I could hop like that.

"I love you all the way down the lane as far as the river," cried Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you across the river and over the hills," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

That's very far, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. He was almost too sleepy to think any more. Then he looked beyond the thorn bushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be further than the sky.

"I love you right up to the MOON," he said, and closed his eyes.

"Oh, that's far," said Big Nutbrown Hare. "That is very, very far."

Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night.

Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, "I love you right up to the moon - AND BACK."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Tribute to All Fathers

Remember our previous anecdote from Baby Blues? Here's another sweet exchange from the loveliest (albeit harried) family on print:

Zoe: Thanks for taking me to the dance, Dad.
Darryl: My pleasure, Zoe.
Zoe: (shuts eyes and hugs Darryl's leg) You're the best Dad in the whole world!
Darryl: Got it!
Cell Phone: (Zoe's voice) You're the best Dad in the whole world!
Zoe: (exasperated) You don't have to record every nice thing I say about you, Dad!
Darryl: I think I've just found my new ring tone!

And that's a neat prelude to our next article! Do keep a lookout for that next post~

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chocolate Raindrops Amid Gunfire

The YouTube video that has been making headlines around the world for the past week is not some racist rant or senseless plank in vogue, but a most courageous act by a Mexcian teacher - singing a Barney song to calm her charges amid the gunfire raging outside the classroom. For what is courage? Not feeling no fear - but acting in spite of fear, and thinking of others even when the fear is looming on one.

....Presenting Martha Rivera Alanis's 'If All the Raindrops':

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Not your average daily deal site: Philanthroper

Forget about disputes over fine lines, traps laid out to phish innocent folks, offers reading better than they really are. Instead of selling stuff - not to mention often stuff we can really do without - Philanthroper shares the story of a new nonprofit everyday, and if you are moved by the motivation behind it, you can give it a dollar. If you are a corporate organization, you can even advertise on the site to support the nonprofits. Philanthroper itself is a nonprofit too, taking no cuts from the donations and charging no fees for charities to be featured. Even if you are a bit tight in the wallet, merely reading the stories themselves helps us to gleam light about the world at large. Take for instance - do you know that some homeless women had to disguise themselves as men to get a meal or just to check in to a place to sleep? Or that the average U.S. teacher - already on meagre incomes - forks out $1500 a year to buy supplies for their classroom? The highlighted causes remind us how privileged most of us reading this are, and how much work there is to be done to make our world a more habitable place.

Share with your friends the featured charities and together, let's contribute to a better world.

Monday, May 16, 2011

When The Night is Darkest, and The Hill Steepest

Don't Quit

by Jill Wolf

Don't quit when the tide is lowest,
For it's just about to turn;

Don't quit over doubt's and questions,
For there's something you may learn.

Don't quit when the night is darkest,
For its just a while 'til dawn;

Don't quit when you've run the farthest,
For the race is almost won.

Don't quit when the hill is steepest,
For your goal is almost nigh;

Don't quit, for you're not a failure
Until you fail to try.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Because You're Here 因为有你

Lavender Country expresses our deepest sympathies to the victims of the recent spate of multiple misfortunes in Japan. At the same time, we are also bowled over by the civilities demonstrated by the Japanese society in spite of the crisis. Perhaps behind every disaster is a lesson to be gleamed. For one, we share an enlightening piece of prose by a Japanese friend written in the thick of the turmoil:




Days after days of aftershocks accompanied by unsettling news and unsettling rumors. The unsettledness of blackouts accompanied by the unsettling everyday.

The state of the shelves in supermarkets and convenience stores. The daily train journeys to and from work, not knowing when everything will come to a sudden halt.

Thinking of one's work prospects darkens the day even more!

Yet although everyone is faced with a myriad of uneasiness inside oneself, the critical issue is how to channel them out and achieve a good emotional balance, isn't it?

And that - is not something attainable by a single person.

Someone looking after one.

Someone inquiring after one.

Someone who's willing to lend a ear to even mundane grouses.

The presence of such precious people, I feel, is a source of happiness by itself.

Thinking of this, my heart felt a great deal lighter.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Tomes

Did you know that 2011 has been marked as the Year of Harry Potter, in light of  the launch of the film finale in the series? To join in the celebrations, Lavender Country accompanies you on a walk down memory lane with some lines of wisdom from the well-loved Professor Dumbledore:


  • You know, the (Philosopher’s) Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much  money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose  above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things  which are worse for them.

  • Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.

  • The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing […]

    • […] love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no  visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is  gone, will give us some protection for ever. It is in your very skin.

    • To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
    (Note: Professor Dumbledore was discussing about death as a natural passage of life.)

    • It is our choices […] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

    • It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    The Many Faces of the Moon and its Rabbit

    In many legends around the world, the rabbit leads a busy existence high up on the lunar plains. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit pounds away continually with a mortar and a pestle, making the elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang-E. In Japanese and Korean eyes, it is forever seen pounding the ingredients for mochi (rice cake). 

    Life is not any idle for our furry friend over in the Western hemisphere either. Native American legend has it that a young rabbit had a wish to ride the moon but could not jump far enough. Yet the birds –large and small– were all unwilling to take it there. Seeing the rabbit’s disappointment, the crane finally agreed to take it there. During the trip however, the heavy weight of the rabbit strained the crane’s legs so much that they became elongated and remained so to this date. So does the rabbit continue its ride on the moon.

    Even when the rabbit can rest its paws, life has not been easier for it. In the Buddhist tale Śaśajâtaka, an otter, a monkey, a jackal and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon. When the day itself arrived, they met an old man begging for food. The otter caught fish; the monkey plucked fruits from the trees, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. Knowing nothing other than gathering grass, the rabbit lurched into a fire the man had started, offering its own body for food. Miraculously, the rabbit was unscathed. The old man then revealed himself to be Śakra, ruler of the Trāyastriśa Heaven. Moved by the rabbit’s nobility, Śakra drew the image of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said this lunar image is still thinly veiled by the smoke that rose when the rabbit threw itself into the fire.

    Similar stories to the legend of the rabbit in Śaśajâtaka are also found in Mexican and Japanese folk canons.

    Whatever the rabbit’s ventures though, all the legends sung of courage and self-sacrifice, a theme resonant with Easter. On this Easter Day, let us think of the rabbit (and its poor crane buddy) and keep their virtues in our hearts as we munch on the Easter eggs from our lovely bunny friends.

    Happy Easter, everyone!

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    A More Beautiful Landscape 一个更为美丽动人的世界



    The rainbow after the storm is especially lovely.
          The flowers budding after a harsh winter are a shade prettier.
                The breeze in the midst of a sweltering summer is most alluring.

    What is hardship, but to open our eyes to a more beautiful landscape?

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    When you see that the stars are not shining so favourably on you... helps to cast a look elsewhere instead:

    Picture reproduced with the kind permission of MIT Admissions blogger Chris Su.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    手帕般的邂逅 A Kind of Meeting Like a Handkerchief




    The worst kind of meeting is a meeting like a fish;
    the more you meet, the greater the pungency.

    The kind of meeting to be most wary of is a meeting like a blossoming flower;
    when the flower is in bloom, it is a joy; once it shrivels, it is discarded.

    The most beautiful kind of all meetings is a meeting like a handkerchief;
    when things get rough, it dabs away your perspiration;
    and when sadness overcomes you, it wipes away your tears.

    ——Passage recited by Jan Di in Korean drama "Boys Over Flowers"

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    A Man, a Boy and the Starfish—A Timeless Seaside Classic

    An old man was walking along a shore at dawn when he saw someone in the distance bending down, picking something up and hurling it into the ocean. As he got closer, he saw that it was a boy picking up starfish one after another from the sand and gently tossing each back into the water.

    The old man got closer still and inquired, “Good morning, young man. May I ask what you are doing?”

    The boy paused to look up and answered, “The sun is out and the tide is going away. If I don’t return the starfish back into the ocean, they will die.”

    “But son, do you not realize that the shore stretches on for miles and miles, and each mile has starfish lying along it. What difference will you be able to make?” the man questioned.

    “Well,” the boy replied, picking up another starfish and flinging it back into the ocean. “It made a difference to that one.”

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    The Best Medicine

    An emotive episode in one of the latest issues of Baby Blues, if you have not caught it:

    Scenario: Young daughter Zoe is down with the bugs and mum Wanda is nursing her at her bedside.
    Wanda: How are you feeling, sweetie?
    Zoe: Awful. Can't you make me feel better?
    Wanda: There's nothing I can give you for a virus, Zoe.
    Zoe: Nothing...?
    Wanda then leaned forward to cuddle Zoe, who closed her eyes and broke into a big smile.
    Wanda in her thoughts: Five hundred years of medicine, and they still haven't topped the hug.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    Softly, Softly, Slowly Goes the Day...

         One of my fondest memories of late computer science professor Randy Pausch's memoir 'The Last Lecture' is actually this passage, which gives a momentary breath of refreshing air in the middle of the solemn reading:
    "...As I spoke about childhood dreams, I'd ask everyone to close their eyes and rub their crayons in their fingers—to feel the texture, the paper, the wax. Then I'd have them bring their crayons up to their noses and take a good long whiff. Smelling a crayon takes you right back to your childhood, doesn't it?
    I once saw a colleague do a similar crayon routine with a group of people, and it had inspired me. In fact, since then, I've often carried a crayon in my shirt pocket. When I need to go back in time, I put it under my nose and I take another hit."

         Other than recontacting with our true ideals and reaffirming our lifelong passions, sometimes reconnecting with the inner child lingering deep inside everyone of us casts away all troubles and sorrows in a split moment. If sniffing crayons is not your cup of tea, Lavender Country has something subtler to share:
    Click to visit Good Night Lullabies' site.
    Good Night Lullabies

         Listening to lullabies soothes away fears and worries, snapping us back to a simpler and more innocent time long forgotten. Good Night Lullabies offers a selection of relaxing music inspired by Chopins, Brahms and Irish folk tunes that "combine piano, strings and woodwinds to evoke a peaceful atmosphere". Composed by Patrice Cosie, a music educator and performer with a MA in music and 30 years of experience in the field including work as a UCLA instructor and a music therapist, each lullaby blends in gentle sounds and restful patterns to create a tranquil mood. Notably, the music has won accolades from clinical psychologist Piper Walsh and yoga guru Tara Kilgallen. Four of these original pieces are available for trial listening on the site. Purchase can be made through PayPal or from the iTunes music store or the Amazon link to the right. Alternatively, the full length versions of "In a Mother's arms" and "Beautiful Child" can be downloaded for free from here.

         Whether you are winding down from a long day or struggling to catch forty winks, lullabies can be a nice-to-have in your iPod. Like what one customer attested to, Lavender Country found that listening to the lullabies after a day of work was like "wrapping my senses in a warm blanket". But more than that, the endearing melodies worked almost like a charm, easing away the tension in every strand of your muscles. The serendipity that happens in a marriage between an age-old art and 21st century technology.

         Before we conclude, let's not forget the most obvious benefit of lullabies. With the mercury reading creeping stealthily up, mums on Facebook have been lamenting that their infants are having a harder time sleeping through the night. Perhaps a time or two can work some magic, like our own mothers used to.

    Disclaimer: Lavender Country is in no way associated with Good Night Lullabies or Lily Pond Lane Music.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Heart-melting Moments @ Farmville

     One of the reasons FarmVille has been the phenomenal hit it has been must be that it paints out so poignantly some of our dearest life aspirations:

    Let's play hard to explore those dreams & work hard to put the dreams to life!

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    A Tale of Two Rats

         Once upon a time (the obligatory fairy tale opening line) there lived two white rats dwelling cozily together when fate took them apart.

         But halt  – this is not a fairy tale. This, is office dynamics!

         Returning to the story, our two protagonists were separated by none other than ... ... diabolical villains donning white  – scientists. These scientists kept them apart, with their sole connection being electrical wires tied to their tails, then proceeding to introduce a current in the wires. Ouch! (Just the kind of stuff lab rats delight in doing to real rats.)

         One of the more fortunate rats was named 'Boss' (told ya this is an office tale) and had a switch placed within reach of it. One click on the switch by its front paw when it felt a pain sensation and the electrical current would be cut off. The other rat, a miserable fellow named none other than 'Subordinate', had no means of cutting off the current and thus could only wait frantically for Boss to cut off the current.

         The two rats met in a most tragic fate in the end, which details we shall not go into elaboration here (suffice to say that lab rats are the eternal nemeses of real rats). Upon examination of their stomachs for the impact inflicted by the stressor (the electric shock), it was found that the blessed Boss had developed a smaller ulcer than poor Subordinate.

         As with many stories though, this is a tale with a twist. What we may not have paid attention to at this point is that being tied to the same electrical connection, the two rats had been receiving an identical quantity of electric shock all the while. We thought of Subordinate as the long-suffering protagonist, even though the fact that it suffered merely as much as Boss had always been right in front of our eyes. Yet, Subordinate still ended up with a larger ulcer than Boss nevertheless.

         Like our furry cousins, we rats of the breed scurrying around in the oft-termed 'rat race', experienced greater trauma when we perceive that we are not in control of our fates, even though the stress load might have been all the same had the reality been otherwise. Thankfully though, unlike real rats, we do not have to be subjected to the sadistic whims of mad antagonists in white. Far from that, we are able-bodied individuals capable of realizing our own volition. In fact, in this modern age, we are more often than not free to shape our own destinies in life, be it picking a life partner we are truly in love with, building an academic career around our interests and passions or choosing a career track that matches our aspirations. The lamentable thing though, is that some of us tend to lose of that when the going gets tough. Hence the onus is on us to remind ourselves in such times that we are still living our dreams, a bed of roses they may not be. Unhappy with your boyfriend's tardiness? Well, no one's perfect, and at least he's the dream guy you managed to snag among a crowd of hopefuls. Have to wake up at 8 a.m. for the morning lecture? Deadlines for a series of term papers coming up? Pulling an all-nighter for an exam? In some other corner of the world, lots of kids would die just for the privilege of attending school! Stuck in your office cubicle for 80 hours a week? Wait, don't forget that you are doing something you adore a million times over being stuck in a hot sweaty assembly line, along with its complementary dust, glass shards and cranking machinery noise, 80 hours a week.

         Happily ever after or not, WE are our own Boss. Let us not hurt ourselves more by thinking otherwise.

    Reference: Aikawa Atsushi. (2001). Counter-intuitive Interpersonal Psychology. Japan: NHK.