The Man in the Arena


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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid soul who neither know victory nor defeat. – Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizen In A Republic

Barbarian Warrior by Marcus Ranum

Image: Marcus Ranum (

This is one of my favorite quotes on failure and success.

When I found out that the infamous US President Richard Nixon himself mentioned this in his resignation speech, my first reaction was intrigue. So I read more about Nixon and the Watergate scandal and when I got to the part when he only had $500 in his bank account, having lost most of his money to legal fees, and that to earn more, he had to further expose himself to the public by writing memoirs and appearing in interview shows, I have to admit, my pity for the man was growing. Because if you carry that national shame and guilt over the scandal, the first instinct is to hide your pain from everyone.  Nixon didn’t have that option.

My second reaction was that I wasn’t surprised in Nixon’s selection of the passionate quote. There is true and real comfort in Roosevelt’s permission to fail while daring greatly. And this phrase, while daring greatly, was what got to me. For I take it to mean that when you fail while doing something great, that’s the failure that matters or should matter in your life, not the other blunders and mistakes that we sometimes obsess about.

A close friend of mine once introduced to me the term discernment, which means the ability to judge well. It wasn’t the first time I heard of the word, but it was certainly the first time I understood it deeply. I recall it now because Roosevelt has this message right from the very start on discerning what matters and what doesn’t and that knowing the difference is the key to accepting. In the beginning of the quote, he says:  it is not the critic that counts, not the man who points…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. 

Nixon’s careful selection of the quote also reminds me of this one line from Yann Martel’s  best-selling novel, Life of Pi:

The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.

Meaning: when you’re feeling defeated, kind and loving thoughts to yourself are in order. It’s the only way to have hope of redeeming yourself. And Nixon, I believe, did not only soar after the scandal, but soared on the winds of his own making. According to Wiki, he continued to travel and think and visit world leaders, talking to them, not forgetting his accomplishments and political experience. He must be thinking, Who knows the value of my contribution if I don’t even try? The site also says that Bill Clinton even asked him for some advice. And when he passed away, at his funeral, five US Presidents and no less than 40,000 people paid their respects to the beloved elderly statesman. A well-deserved farewell for the Man in the Arena.

Don’t steal sweet rolls


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annaI’ve started reading Anna Karenina again, after reading about 300 pages (out of 817)  two or three years ago. I knew from the start that I wasn’t ready for it. You don’t just wake up one day and decide that you wish to explore infidelity and its consequences. Perhaps, I felt it too serious and realistic a subject to immerse myself in. And three years ago, I’m just not that serious enough of a person to commit to it.

But this year, I know I’m different. I know I’m more serious, but the good kind of serious. And this book was just sitting in my shelf, almost forgotten. And then it happened quickly. One day, I was watching an 8-minute video on breakups, with no intention other than to be entertained, and the next thing I knew, I was holding this book with fear and earnestness, just like Levin and his regard for Kitty.

And I must say, after reading only about 200 pages, I knew why everyone should read Anna Karenina at least once in their lifetime. I can say, without having yet read it fully, that the novel is the greatest book ever written mainly because Tolstoy left no stone unturned, meaning, he wrote it in a way that leaves you no doubt about the characters and their motivations. I both love and hate them as if they were my own family or close relatives. It’s truly remarkable.

Just to give you an idea of what the book is about, here’s a brief description: The story is about the unhappy families of the Oblonskys, Scherbatskys, Levins, and the Karenins. Each, as Tolstoy famously narrates, is unhappy in its own way. The Oblonskys, with Stiva as the head, is at the edge of breaking up because of Stiva’s cheating on his wife, Dolly. The Scherbatskys, on the other hand, is also facing a crisis that is focused on Kitty’s heart being broken by the carefree Vronsky. The Levins, headed by Konstantin Dmitrich, were unhappy in their own way because of Levin’s  unrequited love for Kitty, his older brother’s illness, and the elements that continue to oppose him in the successful running of his farm. And lastly, the Karenins, where the eponymous Anna belongs, are experiencing life that Anna’s husband, Alexei Alexandrovich, deems unnatural, because of Anna’s forbidden love for Vronsky.

There’s this passage in page 142 (Part 2) that sticks to me and it’s funny because it was related to Anna’s deceived husband, Alexei.

Alexei Alexandrovich stood face to face with life, confronting the possibility of his wife loving someone else besides him, and it was this that seemed senseless and incomprehensible to him, because it was life itself.

Because it was life itself. I like that line because it sums up everything that is happening in this novel, which is rightly labeled as realistic fiction. Life happens to each of us and Tolstoy captured it so beautifully, not with words,  but with a deep understanding of people and their heartaches.

The title of this post is one of the metaphors that I like in the novel and it came from Levin who was giving Stiva advice on how to deal with his crisis with Dolly. Don’t steal sweet rolls. There are other metaphors and double entendres in the book and it makes the reading less stiff, I suppose, and more familiar in its preciseness.

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon



Shadow of the Wind

Shadow of the Wind

A writer whom no one reads might evoke some sympathy.

But a writer whom no one reads, but whose books cause enough hatred that all existing copies must be burned is a promising and interesting start of a narrative. Combined with diverting characters and their melodramas and an atmosphere that immediately reminds one of ghost stories, Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is an entertaining read.

The story within the story starts with Daniel Sempere. He visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and discovers Julian Carax’sThe Shadow of the Wind. Enchanted by Carax’s work, Daniel decides to find his other books and finds out all throughout this mission that the books are as rare and nearly non-existent as Carax himself.

Ruiz Zafon doesn’t hold back in his storytelling. He gives everything in this novel—-humor, suspense, romance, father and son dynamic, sidekicks, closet gays, loyal friends, narrators with unbelievable memories, spies in the bus or street corners, and other such crazy and colorful storylines and characters.

When Ruiz Zafon goes back to the heart of the story, after about 300 pages, I was almost relieved to be finally getting the secret.

And here’s what I realized: I wish there was more to the Byronic hero in the story, to Julian Carax, other than his suffering.

Rooting for the romantic hero who is deceived and hunted is all well, but I think Julian Carax would have been a more interesting antihero if he was given a chance to be successful in Paris before succumbing to the dark side.

I would have wanted to read more about his charisma and sophistication (he is living in Paris!) so that I’ll feel the loss of the person loved by Penelope Andaya, sponsored by Miquel Moliner, protected by Nuria Monfort, and loathed by Fumero.

But Ruiz Zafon only gives us one reason to believe that Daniel Sempere should save Julian Carax: he must write again.

Overall, the mystery that is Julian Carax is what Daniel Sempere needs. Most interesting is the role of Nuria Monfort, who for me, is the real hero in the story.


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