Shakespeare Month: Macbeth

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Hello, my dear strangers!

I gave Macbeth five out of five stars. Justly earned, too! Definitely, definitely, definitely the best WS play I’ve ever read! I loved it so much! I don’t even know where to start.

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Macbeth, our flawed protagonist, is a man of great potential. His prowess on the battlefield is one of his most striking features. The battlefield is where he feels at home the most. He was born to be a warrior and to die being a warrior, serving his king in the manner best suited to him. However, he rose beyond himself. With great desire come great temptations. Macbeth is a play with no easy answers. There are a lot of loose ends and unchecked assumptions left by its end. Scholars have been trying to decipher them for centuries, but ultimately, it’s all left for the reader’s own interpretation of the events.
For instance – the witches. They represent the ominous portents of fate and things beyond human comprehension, yet my own interpretation is slightly different. I don’t believe that their role was to profess the future, but rather that their aim was to meddle with humans for sport. They already possess an innate understanding of human psyche and are quite aware of what’s going on around them and they use that knowledge to spur on weak souls, again – for sport. They knew that Macbeth had received the title of thane of Cawdor much earlier than he did and they used this to make him believe they could see the future. Everything else, in my opinion, happened because humans did it and the witches knew they’d do it, not because they’re psychic, but because they possess a profound understanding of the human psyche.

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Take Banquo. I don’t believe his son will ever become a king for two reasons – firstly, he knows nothing of the witches’ prophecy and secondly – he has no desire to take the throne. Banquo could have acted differently upon hearing the prophecy. He could’ve taken steps to insure that his children would take the crown. But, he didn’t. It was a conscious choice. Macbeth, on the other hand, never would have dreamed of taking the crown, had it not been for the witches. Yes, ambition did linger in his heart, but he never would’ve acted on it. That is the crucial difference, in my opinion. The witches’ prophecy does set in motion the play’s plot, not because it’s an accurate reading of the future, but because the characters themselves chose to pursue it or ignore it, respectively.
Lady Macbeth is one of the most remarkable heroines of Shakespeare’s to grace the stage. Her strong presence, intense ambition and ever-so-shakeable psyche are superbly portrayed. One might argue that the Bard was a bit of a chauvinist, given his slightly misogynistic portrayal of female characters within the play. After all, it is women who initiate the play’s chaotic chain of events and it is women who demand that they persist till the bloody end, spurring on male characters and providing encouragement and support when they waver. Misogynistic or not, Lady Macbeth’s nature is still a compelling one. As a woman living in a certain age when a sundry of societal norms exist to limit her desires, Lady Macbeth acts the one way she can and uses the only weapon available to her – manipulation. She openly defies her husband, mocks him, berates his manhood and manliness, provoking him and challenging him. Her ambition is even greater than Macbeth’s. So is her guilt. Her earlier statements that it only takes a bit of water to wash their hands clean of Duncan’s murder are later countered by her heavy conscience. She begins sleepwalking, hallucinating, blabbing on about their crime, slowly descending into madness until the breaking point when she decides to take her own life.

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Macbeth, ironically, ends his back in his rightful place. He used to be a warrior. Then he became a king. Nevertheless, he suffered a warrior’s death, hacking away at enemies on the battlefield, until being slain. The play begins and ends with him as a warrior, a position he never should have abandoned. In reaching too high, in placing blind faith in the words of three haggard witches, Macbeth seals his own fate. He could’ve been a great man. Hey, a thane of Cawdor, that’s not a bad title at all! However, his potent ambition ironically proved to be his demise.

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Another excellent theme of the play which I find extremely interesting is the one of gender roles. Lady Macbeth is described as woman with manly qualities. She gets what she wants by poking fun at her husband’s manhood, equating his hesitation to commit murder with impotence. Note how this royal couple has no children. In a similar manner, Macbeth manipulates the assassins to slay Banquo – by questioning their masculinity. In many of the characters’ eyes, being a man equals being ruthless and violent. Even Banquo, a character many see as grounded and sensible, uses his last breath to urge his son to avenge his death. Not to forgive, not to forget, not to make deals, simply to “act as a man” and solve his problems with violence. Lady Macbeth herself notes that she would like to be “unsexed”, so that she could murder on her own, without having to rely on a hesitant husband. In some ways, the play may even be interpreted as liberating to women, since it at least acknowledges the limits women were expected to live within. Lady Macbeth’s frustration at being trapped in a dress is a strong echo of thousands of female voices who have felt just as trapped and frustrated throughout history.
Yet, there is one character out there who doesn’t equate manliness with violence and bloodshed. And, interestingly enough, it is a male character. Upon hearing the news of his wife and children’s deaths at the hands of Macbeth, Macduff experiences a sort of pain no one wishes to feel. Malcolm, the young heir to the throne, urges him to take it as a man and channel his grief into ire, yet Macduff answers that he must first feel it as a man. Obviously, there’s more to being a man than simply spilling enemy guts. A profound loss such as one Macduff experiences simply has to be processed, no matter how primitively and harshly within the bounds of an earlier, tougher era. To become a man, a boy must first learn to feel. And that is one of the greatest lessons that Malcolm, the future king of Scotland, learns.

And that concludes my Shakespeare month. Hope you enjoyed. Keep reading 🙂

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Shakespeare Month: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Hello, my lovely strangers 🙂

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I think it’s fair to say I did not enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream very much at all. Comedy, one might argue, has gone through drastic changes over the centuries and what pleased people in the Elizabethan era can hardly please modern audiences on the same level. Even so, there shouldn’t exist such a vast discrepancy between genuine laughs and polite smiles. I know this is the Bard we’re talking about, but this is a fourth comedy of his that I’ve read and mostly disliked. While the fairies’ incessant meddling in the lives of humans and the craftsmen’s baboonish attempts at assembling a play can indeed be interpreted as funny, there is a long way to go before I can truly enjoy Shakespeare’s comedies. Comedies, I believe, are not his strongest suit.
The intricate love story between four young Athenians takes a backseat here to farce and absurdity. Their melodramatic mini dramas are complemented by the frivolous concerns of the craftsmen on one side and the magical world of fairies on the other. Shakespeare introduces a typical love triangle with a twist in the form of an ostracised young woman who doesn’t belong in this triangle, yet desperately wants to win back the heart of one of its core members. Lysander loves Hermia, Hermia loves Lysander, Helena loves Demetrius and Demetrius loves Hermia. Add to that a whole bunch of other characters, starting with Theseus and Hippolyta who found love on the battlefield, Hermia’s stern father Egeus, Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairy realm, their mischievous servant Puck and a few clueless lower class men and you’ve got yourself a real jigsaw puzzle. The premise has loads of potential, but the plot seems very simplified. The characters are paper-thin and one-dimensional, seamlessly blending in with one another, not one of them strong enough to jump out of the pages and truly grab your attention.
Now, some experts may disagree with me, stating that Puck greatly adds to the play with his humorous mischief and honest mistakes, that Bottom the weaver’s arrogance and blundering behaviour elevate the play’s coarse humour even higher and that Helena and Hermia represent well-rounded characters, but I just don’t buy it, especially not when it comes to the female characters. Helena is desperate to win back Demetrius, no matter how bad he treats her or how many times he insults her and rejects her. She is insecure, desperate and has no real plan carved out for her future, other than to chase Demetrius through the woods.

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Hermia is slightly more developed and real, stepping out of the cardboard conventions of meek, obedient female characters and firmly going after what she wants. She is feistier than Helena, openly defies her father and the Athenian law and fights for the life she has planned out with Lysander. Once Lysander gets “poisoned” into thinking he actually loves Helena, Hermia is ready for a fight, though a lot of her own insecurities surface, shallow as they may be, such as her own short stature compared to Helena’s height. Even so, Hermia remains a very flat character.
There are several subplots accompanying this main thread of the play, oftentimes separately, but overlapping with each other in the play’s most climactic scenes. There’s the ensuing wedding of Hippolyta and Theseus, Oberon and Titania’s feud and his subsequent revenge, the craftsmen’s attempts at putting up a play for the wedding and the play itself, whose plot strongly resembles that of Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers and which may have even influenced the story of the unlucky Verona lovers.

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Speaking of love, even though there are plenty of couples in the play, the plot still doesn’t revolve around them as much as it does around the comedy. Even so, Shakespeare gave us one of the most beautiful lines about love: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” That one simple line was enough to make my day.
All in all, I gave A Midsummer Night’s Dream two and a half stars. I have decided to follow Puck’s prudent piece of advice and pretend that reading this play was just a dream.

Keep reading, my dear strangers 🙂

Shakespeare Month: Richard the Third

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Greetings, my dear strangers!

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Yes, I realise that April is traditionally considered Shakespeare Month, but I’m going in a bit early with this. Let me start off by saying that I’ve never been a great fan of the Bard. That’s not say I don’t like his works, simply that he was never one of my favourite authors and that I’ve seldom given his works more than 3 stars. Maybe that’s because I was born in an era when understanding and appreciating his genius has become more difficult than ever, maybe because I’m simply not up to par with that level of literature. Whatever the reason, during my Shakespeare month, I plan to write honest reviews in which I’ll give a bit of historical context, present a few deeply ingrained notions and widely accepted interpretations of his works and my most candid opinion. I won’t lie or say that I liked a play I didn’t like, no matter how highly acclaimed it may be. Therefore, true to my word, I give Richard III three and a half stars (out of five).

Richard the Third is one of Shakespeare’s most widely read historical plays. Historical may be a treacherous term here, as the famous playwright was heavily influenced by another, earlier work of art which demonised Richard. Moreover, he lived and created during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a descendant of the king who’d defeated Richard in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field and could hardly write nice things about him, regardless of his own opinion. Furthermore, the great Tudor myth played a huge role at the time, which may have prompted Shakespeare to further embellish the monarch’s sordid deeds. History remembers Henry III as a ruthless tyrant, mostly due to his presumed involvement in the killings of two young boys with claim to the throne, but once things are put into perspective, we realise that Henry was no worse and no better than the preceding and subsequent rulers.

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Anyway, during the first few acts, Richard’s character can widely be interpreted through the medieval character of Vice, a one-dimensional character originating in the medieval drama which had, by Renaissance, developed into two archetypes – the mischievous prankster and the embodiment of evil. You can guess which version Richard represents.

Using his physical repulsiveness and deformity as a cause and an excuse for his behaviour, Richard from the very first lines lets us in on his wicked plans to take over the throne. His speech makes us his accomplices, his spectators, his confidants. His demeanour completely changes once he’s around other characters, notably his brother Clarence, whom he tries to console and comfort, even though we, the audience, are well aware that Richard is in fact to blame for the existing bad blood between his brothers and Clarence’s subsequent imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Throughout the play, Richard manages to break many characters. He bends them to his will almost effortlessly, it seems. After his ascension to the throne, Richard mainly uses violence and unhidden terror as a means of dealing with his opponents. However, during his climb to power, he primarily relies on his superior language skills, even though he doesn’t shy away from violence and atrocities either. Many readers feel that certain characters whom he deceives, such as Lady Anne, his brothers and Queen Elizabeth are simply too obtuse to see through his lies and schemes. Perhaps they are, especially from our modern viewpoint. But, let’s not forget that these characters do not have the same insight into Richard’s private thoughts as we, the audience, do. Those lines depicting his sly victories are put there for a reason. That reason is not to make other characters appear foolish, but to convince us, beyond any doubt, that Richard is indeed a supreme orator and that his most powerful tool is his golden tongue.

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Even though Richard can be interpreted as an extension of the medieval Vice for the better part of the play, he evolves into a somewhat more complex character during the final two acts. We see panic, paranoia, maybe even remorse developing within him and it all starts to form the minute he places his arse upon the throne. That’s when another earlier notion creeps into the play, the notion of Fortuna, the Goddess of Fortune, in whose hands a wheel can be found. She is tasked with perpetually turning the wheel of fortune, so that those once mighty fail and, vice versa, those once on the bottom prosper. This continual cycle can best be spotted in the literature preceding the Renaissance, most notably in Beowulf whose steady rise quickly begins dropping once he reaches the top, the imaginary ceiling that no hero, no matter how honourable, strong or vile may transcend. At least, not without some heavy repercussions. And, the higher they rise, the harder they fall.

One of the most interesting characters in the play and the one I was deeply disappointed not to see whilst watching the movie version last night, is Margaret. She is not a very active character, per se, yet she does our foreshadowing for us. Her character can be described as this bitter, lingering creature of sorrow and wrath, skulking about the hallways of the castle, murmuring heavy words under her breath, forced to live with the murderers of her kin. Her curse in the early acts of the play comes to fruition later on, so much so that the other two women who’ve experienced Richard’s brutality ask her to teach them the art of cursing as well. Hers is a lingering presence of great danger. Her words, at first dismissed as rants of an embittered old lady, soon prove to be extremely potent, capable of overpowering kings, taking down entire dynasties and even changing the course of history… within the limits of literature, of course. However, even though her character proves to be powerful and dangerous, she is still a creature that invokes pity, for her life has now been reduced to a lonely, desperate, morose existence.

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Finally, a few thoughts on the movie. I saw Richard the Third last night and I highly recommend it. This is the 1955 version, starring Laurence Olivier, an amazing Shakespearean actor. I’m a visual type and watching the movie helped explain some scenes a lot more clearly. While reading the play, I was left puzzled by Lady Anne’s quick and sudden defeat, yet the movie portrayed a very convincing seduction scene that leaves no room for doubts as to Richard’s highly advanced oratory and manipulation. Mr Olivier acts with such an ease, it almost seems like this evil, tyrannical frame of mind comes naturally to him. He relishes in his own wickedness, unapologetically and convincingly. He frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience during Richard’s soliloquies and with a sly smile informs us that his eyes bear no remorse in them. Another powerful scene is when Richard is on the battlefield, crying that he would gladly exchange his entire kingdom for a horse and a better chance of survival.

Keep reading 🙂

The Art Of Rereading: To Kill A Mockingbird

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Hello, my dear strangers!

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Isn’t it funny how certain situations just align themselves for your convenience? For instance, a few weeks ago, I decided that it was high time to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. Mere days later, my professor told us that we should read it, since we were expected to write an essay on it on our exam. Less than two weeks later, Goodreads introduced its rereading option. Don’t you just love it when the Universe aligns itself to accommodate you?

Anyway, To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the most well-known and widely read books out there. A classic and a necessity. People tend to forget how great classics are, simply because they’re always there, they find themselves on all the reading lists, they’re highly appreciated and widely recommended and it’s part of their curse. With great exposure comes great scorn. Perhaps it’s not even scorn, simply some form of neglect. Yeah, yeah, The Godfather trilogy is great, but let’s watch the latest summer hit instead. Yeah, yeah, Lolita is great, but let’s read the latest cheesy chick-lit novel instead. That’s why the art of rereading (and re-watching, but I’ll limit myself to literature for the moment) is so important. It takes us back to the beginning and allows us to fall back in love with the very essence of a particular highly acclaimed novel, without all the pomp and without all the studies and the professors of this world telling you to love it simply because. It allows for an opportunity to fall back in love with the plot, the characters and the style. It reintroduces its themes in a fresh way. The longer you’ve kept yourself from rereading a certain book you used to love and appreciate, the better the reward will be. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was quite young. Almost ten years later, I set out to reread it. In that space of time between the two reads, a lot has happened. For one, I’m not thirteen anymore. I can appreciate the novel from a plethora of different angles now. I’d forgotten many details about it, minor subplots and important quotes. In a nutshell, the experience was magnificent and rewarding on so many levels. That’s why the art of rereading is so important. My to-be-read list is endless and I realise that I’ll never be able to complete it. I’ll die in the middle of reading a book, with countless others waiting on the stack for their turn. This may be the reason why so many people tend to avoid rereading altogether, the fact that there are plenty of books out there waiting to be read and that going back is a simple waste of time. Perhaps, though I tend to disagree, especially after my most recent experience. There are certain books which simply stand out. Visiting them for a second, or third or tenth time is anything but a waste of time.

So, now that I’ve expressed my love for rereading, let’s get on to the novel. There’s not much for me to say that hasn’t already been said and heavily discussed in different articles and academic studies over the decades. There’s an image of a picture-perfect, sleepy small town in the Deep South, teeming with busybody neighbours, urban myths, everyday comings and goings typical of such communities. But, behind the image of a seemingly perfect town resting beneath incessant heat and tightly wrapped in family values lie many different hues of morality.

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Everybody’s got both good and bad within, but once fear, prejudice and social norms outweigh common sense, you find yourself in a small world within a larger one, isolated, yet still a part of it. You’ve got the faulty majority, acting out of fear mostly, I’d like to think and not sheer evil and a handful of good men doing their best to make progress. And progress is made, indeed.

The time the plot is set in can allow for no more than baby steps, slow, almost imperceptible glacial processes. The jury’s delayed decision is a baby step. Mayella’s reaching out outside of the norms of what is perceived as acceptable is a baby step, regardless of her subsequent deplorable choices. Mr. Cunningham’s dismissal of a lynch mob is a baby step. The world is filled with baby steps made by both good and bad characters (I actually don’t like the simple characterisation and portrayal of characters as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and am using these words simply due to a lack of better ones), steps that ensure the global improvement of our lives. No one can change completely and it is in baby steps that we must trust. We should appreciate them even more than big, radical alterations, for they represent the subtle change everyday folks make that will eventually grow into something more powerful and stable.

What saddened me the most about the plot is its depiction of innocence or, rather – the loss of innocence. Scout and Jem gradually lose their idealistic, blind faith in their fellow men throughout the course of the novel and replace it with a more pragmatic viewpoint. Arthur used to be a common man, one whose innocence was ruined by his family. Tom used to be a common man, one whose innocence was ruined by society. Instead of treasuring these fragile mockingbirds, people turned their backs on them.

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There is a bigger picture here to be encompassed and that is a trait of any good novel – its ability to apply its themes not only on the plot it follows, but the greater world outside of its pages. The motifs of the story could easily be applied to a number of different situations, from wars, poverty, racism, the failure of religion, society and politics, but in their very core lies human psyche. Human psyche is what drives each and every one of us, it’s what makes our choices for us. Tom’s fate was particularly devastating. An animal cannot do that. Only a human being can point a finger at another human being and declare them inferior, less than, vulnerable. Only a human being can charge another human being with a crime they did not commit and then stare without blinking at the evidence exonerating that man, while simultaneously ignoring it and going with the easier route, the preconceived plan.

So, how do we even begin to make improvements and entangle the mess we’ve made of this planet? Well, it begins with a good education. By ‘good education’ I mean Atticus’s teaching, not tertiary education. Atticus stands out as one of, if not the best father figure in literature. His list of qualities is endless, his parenting style perfect and his hands-off approach to raising children both liberating and strict. He has his faults too, although one has to look very closely to spot them, but on the whole, he is the kind of man every person wishes to have as a parent while they’re young and whose behaviour they wish to imitate when parents themselves.

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Granted, not all children are lucky enough to have a parent like Atticus. Many of us reach young adulthood disappointed with parenting styles, choices, decisions and inadequacies of our own parents and find ourselves on a crossroads, a crucial point when we decide to re-educate ourselves. If you’re wondering whether the previous sentence applies to me, then yes, yes, it does. However, just for the sake of clarifying things, I’d like to point out that I’m keeping with me about two-thirds of everything my parents have instilled in me. I’m just throwing out the rest and making space for some changes.

The scene that made me very emotional came near the very end of the novel, as I stood behind Scout and watched over her shoulder the street she’d grown up on, the street that seemed very different from Arthur Radley’s porch. It was there at last that Scout learned the valuable lesson Atticus had been trying to teach her all along, about the importance of walking around in the shoes of another and experiencing life from their point of view. How easy that lesson is to grasp in theory, yet how unbelievably difficult to apply in reality. Every day we clash with people over our differences. It’s easy to sit down, read a book like this one and absorb its lessons. It’s hard to go and silently accept that which seems unacceptable to us. After that day, Scout had never seen Arthur again. One would think that he, having gone out and interacted with people after a long period of isolation, would gladly start socialising a bit more. It simply doesn’t happen. It may appear strange or incomprehensible to us, but Arthur is a scarred mockingbird who no longer sees any other way to live.

I guess there are various interpretations this novel could receive. I’ve grasped most of them, but the one that stands out for me is the importance of small, everyday acts of kindness. They can move mountains and touch people in ways we would never expect. A smile has the power to uproot trees and part seas. I know that I must sound like an old, idealistic hippie right now, but that’s simply the way I feel. There’s enough cruelty in this world without us adding to it.

Injustice plays a huge role in this story, particularly the failure of law and the justice system. Despite Atticus’s best efforts, an innocent man ends up incarcerated and later killed. A young woman becomes a single parent and a widow. The true culprit gets to walk away. The one place where everybody’s supposed to be treated equally fails the man most in need of its protection. There is some malevolent force, I’m certain of it, trying to keep the balance of this world by dealing judgement where it is uncalled for. Call it Murphy’s Law or karma or however you will, but somehow, the odds always seem stacked against the small guy, working, trying his best to succeed, to live peacefully. There’s just one kind of folks, indeed – folks. Although, Orwell might argue that some folks are simply more equal than others.

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And, so it goes on, this never-ending streak of injustice, repeating itself in literature and art and, most of all, in our lives. Yet, despite it all, the image of the sleepy Southern town, though marred, still somehow manages to remain intact. That’s where the balance part comes in. For every yin there’s a yang. Colossal changes take place every single day, no matter how small the scale may be. With a bit of luck and the right equipment, you may become one of those nameless people who bring about improvement and positive change, even though your names and deeds will never end up in history books, the only people remembering the kind of person you were your dearest and nearest. In today’s world, that’s all anybody could wish for. It’s not settling, per se, it’s transcending the person you were yesterday and replacing it with a better version of yourself. And, often times, that’s just about enough. It’s plenty.

Keep reading  🙂

Favourite December Photos

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Hello, my dear strangers!

First of all, Happy New Year to you all. I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating and, even if you didn’t, don’t worry, you’re not the only ones. But, that’s in the past now. 2016 is gone and will never return , for better or for worse. It’s time to take charge and carve out a better tomorrow. I didn’t have the best time either and had a blazing row with my dad, after which I realised that nothing changes unless a person does. Some things we just have to accept, others we have to fight for. This life of ours is 100% our responsibility. Nobody’s coming to rescue us, so we should work on rescuing ourselves… ourselves.

Ok, now that I got that off my chest, it’s time to show you my top 10 December photos. Enjoy!  🙂

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My friend’s new kitten. I love this furry creature. I’m capable of spending days just cuddling it.

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What’s a month without sushi? Sad-tember. Ok, bad dad jokes aside, this one didn’t really turn out the way I wanted it to, but life is learning and improving. One day, I’ll get it right. Perhaps even perfect.

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This has got to be the most festive, brightest, most ornamented house in the city. No wonder the media immediately flocked. My brother and I went there to see the first switching on of the lights and it was spectacular.

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Once it was a mighty balloon. Now it’s just a deflated child’s dream, stuck in a tree branch.

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I love seeing a basket filled with fruit. It represents health, life and all those good things coming our way. It’s also a beautiful edible ornament.

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The holiday spirit virus plagued us as well a couple of weeks ago and we decided to get creative with this handicrafts workshop. The entire dining room table was filled with paper collages, pens, pencils, watercolours, crayons, tapes, scissors, glue, colourful threads and so forth. You’ll see some of the results in one of the following pics.

7The furry creature continues to amaze. Yes, this is how he sleeps. I’m not a big cat person, but this is just adorable.

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An impromptu dish I’ve put together for my family. Contains way too many ingredients for a lazy bone like myself to list. Let’s just say I used everything we had in the house. The end result was both visually pleasing and delicious. I’ve named it A Moroccan Circus.

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A little bit of magic.

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Here’s the most beautiful product of my mum and brother’s combined creativity. At first, we put this gorgeous angel on our Christmas tree, but then we changed our minds and gave it to a little autistic girl as a present.

Well, there you have. I don’t know you, my dear strangers, so I can’t make any explicit wishes, but you know what you want the best, so I wish that all your dreams come true (unless you’re psychopaths who yearn for war) and I hope you have a wonderful 2017.

Best wishes,

Wayward Child (Ana)  🙂