Friday, March 7, 2014

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I don't know about everyone else, but I really do not like sharing my work with just anybody.

My sister Lauren. She's a genius. Trust me.
I have a hard time sharing my ideas with people who aren't close to me. I guess I care too much about what they think and I'm afraid they won't pick up what I'm putting down. There's just something about pouring my soul over a page and then not having it be appreciated that crushes a little part of me. It's something that I have had to overcome recently because I've been required to share my ideas in order to meet class requirements. One thing that has helped me is to be selective with whom I share my work. There are a few people who I really trust because they understand where I am coming from and they aren't afraid to push me to be better. I respect their opinions so much because they are thoughtful, intelligent people. They've been a source of great help for me in the past couple of years.

The smartest person I know is my sister Lauren. She is a genius. Trust me. She also understands me like few people do. We were really close growing up because we're only a year apart. I was always a year ahead of her in school until I took two years off and she jumped ahead of me one year. She's been my number one source of help since I returned to school and I am very grateful for her.

Childhood in Wonderland
Creative Commons License 3.0 / Wikimedia

I am connecting the Alice books with William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying like so:

Just as Alice is ridiculously scorned, mislead, and reprimanded by the authority figures in her journey through Wonderland, the offspring of Addie Bundren represent the precarious condition of children that do not have reliable authority figures in their lives in the novel As I Lay Dying. Lewis Carroll and William Faulkner's works identify the damage caused to children by dysfunctional family environments and autocratic adults.

Feel free to critique, compliment, make suggestions, ask questions, or share!

From Plato to Alice


I am sure I am not alone when I say that my freshman year of college was a lot of fun and challenging all at the same time.

 I had always done well in school, and I very much enjoyed learning. But college was different. With all of the freedoms and opportunities college life presented me, I had to learn to be disciplined (I can't say that I have learned it entirely, and I am still working on it). No longer could I do little homework and minimal studying and hope to do well. Research papers and tests required a lot of preparation, thought, and effort.

I am the oldest in my family, so I didn't have older siblings to fill me in on what it was like to stay up 24 consecutive hours and writing a 10 page paper that was due the next day. But I did have an uncle who was at George Mason working through a joint PhD/JD program at the time. My uncle, Luciano, had just graduated with high honors as the valedictorian for his class at the University of Utah. We would talk about school a lot during my freshman year, and we still do. I spent a long time asking for advice and receiving counsel from him on G-Chat and Skype. Our conversations have covered many topics like: Supply and demand, opportunity costs, Plato and The Republic, myths and Ancient Rome, The Iliad, The Odyssey, the Aeneid, Joseph Smith and the LDS church, Google Glass, and recently, his book Subsumption. I have learned a lot from him and am grateful that he has always been willing to help me.
Me and Luciano. We joke that this was our first discussion of basic economic principles.

Luciano is an economist. And he is also a writer. He is working on the final edits of his book that is a fictional commentary on the relationship between history, economics, and technology. It has a gripping plot that explores the economical effects that an alleged peaceful alien invasion has on the world. He mixes science finction, fantasy, satire, and historical non-fiction to craft an entertaining and insightful story. Personally, I see it becoming a successful motion picture. I told him that I better be given a star role.

He asked me to read the working copy of the book and help him as he edits the storyline. It has been a really interesting process and I have enjoyed helping him and learning from his experience as a writer that is looking for outside constructive criticism and opinion. He even sent out a survey to those who read his first draft in order to help him understand how readers interacted with the text. I think this was a great idea.

He is somebody that I will feel really comfortable bouncing my own writing ideas off of. He has helped me with numerous papers, including some for this class. I think that as I get some help from him, I will feel even more confident as I share my ideas with others for this final paper and future papers. I think he will also have good insight on how I can better share my ideas, too.

Picture-books and Language

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is replete with descriptive language that creates new lands, languages, and creatures. Alice in Wonderland relies less on descriptive language and more on illustrations to help the reader interact with the setting and characters. I want to juxtapose the two styles, descriptive language and illustrations, in order to make a claim that Alice, and other books with illustrations, are children's books and don't promote imaginative thinking.

Any ideas on how I could enrich this argument, or change it to be more compelling?

Control Issues

Annalee commented on my Ella Enchanted post and got me excited about something I hadn't thought about before: Ella and Alice both live in worlds in which they are out of control. The only thing is, I need a reason why that matters before it can be a good thesis.

So here's my working tweethis statement idea:

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine takes place in a world where Ella isn't in control of her actions. In Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, the lack of control in Wonderland leads Alice to make strange choices that aren't helpful. These two young heroines battle to gain control of their lives and both discover that they are more powerful than the conditions they've been placed in.

I'll be posting it on Facebook and Twitter to see if I can get any more feedback. HELP ME!

Huggin Hill, EC4, City of Westminster, London

Michela and I at Huggin Hill, London
Growing up, I really hated sharing my personal work with others.  As I've come into college, however, and seen that nearly everyone dislikes sharing their personal works with their peers, I've grown to be more confident.  However, it is still a little disheartening when you share your work, your pride and joy, and the person you are sharing it with doesn't appreciate it.  That is why I have two really close people I know I can rely on to genuinely care about my grades and what I am working on.

I find it fairly easy to talk to my friends about my writing, seeing as it's something most of my friends also have to go through (the majority of the people I call "homies" are English, Public Relations, or Journalism majors).  One of my closest "homies" is Michela, and she and I became good friends after going to London last summer.  She, like most of us in this class, is an English major, and she is a phenomenal editor and writer.  We share all of our writing ideas with each other, including our creative writing ideas (most people are most insecure about sharing creative writing or original writing, as opposed to research or analytical essays).  Michela's one of my best go-to-girls for opinions because she will tell me exactly what she thinks without fear of offending me, which is often what writers need.

Displaced Female Colonist Loses Direction

The Poisonwood Bible and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland both tell the stories of white females from ordered, conservative backgrounds who find themselves adrift in a foreign land and struggle to maintain their previous faith and sense of reality as the customs of the new land disorients and strips them of their basic foundation. Both of these texts feature aspects of post-colonialism and even reverse post-colonialism. Both texts also tell the stories of women who struggle against the didacticism of the patriarchy of their homeland. I would argue that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, though normally considered to be a Victorian text, has many aspects in common with post-modernist texts in the sense that it fights against didacticism.

I plan on circulating this thesis statement on Facebook.

People Like Me? We Have Fun?

New things are always something to be explored.  That is sort of a universal truth with me.  So, what does this mean, or do I ever follow through on explorations?  Honestly, it can be pretty difficult for me to break outside of my "comfort bubble."   Most people do not believe me when I say I am shy.  Think about that for a moment.  I love to talk to people.  I love being around people.  Have you ever heard of an introverted extrovert.

So, being the kind of person that loves people, I also like to control my interactions.  But we all do that.  Anyway, one topic I like to bring up around friends and family is the idea of a fatal flaw.  We all have though of our flaws in one way or another, we all know we have them.  And if you don't think you do... well, let's just say that could be the flaw?  Mine?  I want to be loved by anyone and everything.

I love people, and love to talk to them, but there are very few people that I feel comfortable enough to share my deep, dark feelings.  There is probably only one person I can say literally anything to and I won't be judged, ridiculed, or made fun of.  Granted, thinking that saying what is on my mind will make things bad for me might just be part of my confused mind.  If anyone is wondering, it is the sister person standing in the middle, and her nicknames from me include Suz, Suzbucket, and Susieoozieanne.  (I think I have her listed as Suz in my phone.)

Insecurities seem to be creeping in.  How many people here can relate with randomly feeling awkward or wondering why you are talking about something?  Maybe I am complaining, but it gets tiring when you have people who may or may not be friends and family saying you are awkward, or talk too much, or say what is on your mind too much.  To be fair, I probably don't even say half of what is on my mind.

Nobody wants to feel attacked.  Too often we find ourselves being wronged, or we feel hurt for one reason or another.  Because of who I am, and things I have experienced, I feel this far too strongly at times.  But when I can find a friend that doesn't make me feel like a child or judged as an irresponsible whatever, that person becomes a treasure.  We might not keep in touch as much, life happens.  People get married, have kids, go to new places, but they remain in our hearts and minds... hopefully.  By the way, I don't know if my friend Kevin will ever see this blog post, but he is one of those people that I know will always be there if I need help.

So, here's to those who love and care.

What is Good About Cancer?

Mom, me, and Dad: Summer '13
You don't think about your dad passing away when you're 20 years old and engaged to be married.

I had always imagined dancing with him to a daddy-daughter song at my reception. I had imagined him playing with my kids and being their grandpa, giving them all the advice he's given me.

Life has a way of being unexpected.

What's Good About Cancer?
What’s good about cancer? I’ll tell you.
‘Tis something together we beat.
Though death comes to all and we never know when,
to conquer lung cancer’s a feat!
This sickness has brought us much closer.
Together we conquered the foe.
No matter what happens hereafter
this trophy forever will glow.
The struggle has helped prepare for the day
when gathered to fathers we’ll be
when we finish this race of mortality
more ready, courageous, and free."

My dad wrote this poem last fall when he heard that we had beat his lung cancer. Three months later, in December, his cancer was back, this time Stage 4, and incurable. 

Thesis In the Works

Here's what I have so far. It's very likely to change but we'll see where it goes. Help me out!

The novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower can be better understood when comparing it to the motion picture because of the musical implications and visual relationships depicted in both the book and movie. When does not work without the other which is why they should both be experienced by the audience.

I'm going to talk to my "homies" in person as a way of circulating it.

"What I Think You Think I Am"

 “I am not what I think I am; I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.”

My high school history teacher is responsible for the installation of this quote in my mind. Time and time again, she would prove that human behavior is highly affected by what we think others think of us. And I suppose it's true…

With Brooke and the Poppies / Photograph by Penny Linford
As people, we try to live up to the expectations that we think people have for us. Because they laugh at my jokes, I think my friends think I’m funny; so I’m funny around them. Because my mom tells me I’m very smart and creative, naturally, I find that the things I say around her should probably be intelligent and profound. Because strangers compliment my thick-rimmed glasses and long sweaters, perhaps—I hate to admit it—I feel the need to be a little less “main-stream.”

Tweethis: Feminist Writing by Male Authors

Because of the intense stigma against women and feminist movements in the modern day Middle Eastern region of the world, a male writer must write about feminism in order for the societal problems surrounding gender roles to get any attention--as in Victorian England, when Lewis Carroll, a man, sought to undo gender roles in Alice in Wonderland.

In addition, I have already begun to circulate interest in the topic on my Facebook account. I asked for peoples' opinions and what they know about feminism in the Middle East, and to my surprise, I received a lot of attention and comments--many from people I did not know I was still in contact with!  Here is just a sample of the comments.  I figure, with the people from these comments, I can use them as social proof when I start to really write my essay.  I also had a few people private message me about my topic, which is fantastic--but I will not post those since they were privately messaged.

The Greatest People You Will Ever Meet

Third wheel status
10pts if you get the movie reference in my title

I would not be the person I am today if I didn't have my friends. I consider them family because they are such a strong support system in my life. I value their honest opinions so much that it does get difficult at times. We are always giving each other advice, whether it may be what we want to hear or not. We're constantly looking out for each other which makes us even closer. Since we are all BYU students, our lives are very focused on our grades and classes. Even though we all have different majors, we somehow find a way to help each other study and get things done. I've realized that friends aren't just there to hang out with you on weekends or entertain you when you're bored. They're genuinely interested in helping you and want you to succeed. I've shared a lot of my English assignments with my friends and we always end up having a great discussion of what I brought up. You wouldn't believe some of the things we end up talking about.....

My Journey: A Long Journey!? Good or Bad!?

Where to start where to start?  Bear in mind, any of you purveyors of this post, I like most books, and can talk about most anything in most of those.

Up until 6th grade, my repertoire of “reads” included mediocre books at best.  If I can remember correctly, I remember one series called Boxcar Children, and another called Animorphs.  The first one was about some kids that lived, of all places, in an abandoned train boxcar.  Maybe it was two brothers and two sisters, but the only things that I remember are that they were family, they were children, and they lived in a train boxcar. 

Animorphs… now that was a guilty pleasure read for me even a bit of the way into middle school.

Confessions of an Extrovert

As of recently there's been this rather random movement for people to understand introverts. Apparently they've been suffering at the hands of extroverts (and other introverts, I would argue) who simply don't "understand" them. 

Please go away, human. I need some alone time.
I guess I wasn't aware that we needed to add introverts to the list of personalities/lifestyles/characteristics that garner extra compassion and tolerance-- but look at the blog posts and articles that have been written to help the rest of the world understand that strange, mythical being that is the introvert! Here, here, and here are some rather funny/interesting/bogus examples.

Personally, I feel like all you really need to do to understand the difference between introverts and extroverts is spend a little time with a cat and a dog. One of them will spend all of its time getting as annoyingly close to you as possible. One of them will spend its time getting away from you. Except when it doesn't.

Milo's Monomyth

All right, folks, I'm setting my sights high with this thesis statement about The Phantom Tollbooth! Please tell me what I can fix about this thesis statement, as it has a long way to go. Brace yourselves.

Creative Commons License 3.0
"Joseph Campbell's theory about 'The Hero's Journey' proposes that a certain set of events and character archetypes have created the most exciting stories throughout all time. In The Phantom Tollbooth, the character Milo's quest to rescue the princesses embodies 'The Hero's Journey,' while Alice's quest to become a queen in Through the Looking-Glass does not."

Like I said, it's got a long way to go, and you might want to look up 'The Hero's Journey' for more information. Please tell me what I can fix.

I'm going to post this on Facebook and also talk to some friends and family about my thesis. Let me know what you think!

So it begins...

This is my working thesis. Currently it's simply a compilation of my ideas, in a way that hopefully makes some sense. Any help and/or advice would be greatly appreciated.

The growth of the modern personification of Death can be traced back through the centuries, helping to create the unique narrator of The Book Thief. Not only do these personifications form Death, as a narrator, but the various themes of death, such as those seen in Alice in Wonderland, add to the creation of Death in The Book Thief.

I plan to circulate this on Facebook. 

Movies, Movies, and More Movies

My movie tickets from 2013
(Plus a few from 2014)
Alright, let’s be honest, how many of you have actually gone to a midnight showing of a movie, specifically where there wasn’t reserved seating, so you ended up sitting outside on the concrete for six hours, playing card games, in order to see said movie. And how many of you have seen the same movie with the same person twice in the same day?  Well, I have. Several times in fact. This slight movie obsession is partly due to my good friend, Ashleigh. The amount of movies that we’ve seen together numbers well into the hundreds. We’ve seen all kinds of movies together: action, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, drama, horror, and even the very occasional romantic comedy. So, next question, how does any of this relate to writing?

We Can Work It Out

This my general idea, so feedback and criticism are definitely welcome.

Through the examples of Lewis Carroll and Richard Adams, it is clear that an author's environment plays a major role in the perspective he takes when writing a novel. Many factors including the author's personality and country of origin play a significant role in the ideas he conveys to his audience.

Music Lyrics in Academia? Well...not quite.

Fallen Gypsies 2013
In recent years I have found that the greatest expression of my thoughts and feelings has come through writing. Probably not the type of writing you have in mind though. I'm not talking about term papers and academic scholarship, I'm talking about music. In my band, I take the primary responsibility for writing the lyrics for all of our music. I've written some things I thought were pretty strange and would never be made into songs, but every time we play a show I get to hear those words sung by my vocalist. I get to have my ideas and my feelings shared with a room full of people, (many of them strangers) and I don't anything except hide behind my drum set! It's marvelous. I get an outlet for my words without wondering what people are thinking. That can be very intimidating.

Needing a little more Oomf

This is my thesis that I am working on. Right now its a comparison thesis, but I'm thinking of making it more of a policy, because I think I am missing the so-what punch to it:

During the 19th Century, both England and France suffered a loss of stability. This instability sparked a thirst for existential meaning in both societies. For France, confusion arose from their political and social disruptions; in England, it was due to the ideological battles between religion and science. In contrast to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories which promote self-creation of meaning, Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo stresses that personal meaning is only found through others and ultimately God. 

I'm going to post a shortened version of this on my Facebook. 

Everyone Needs a Shopping Buddy

The Ugliest Blouse in the World
Last year I went shopping with my roommates at Kohls. We all got separated in the store, going to different sections that caught our interest. I ended up wandering in the more professional section, looking for something different from my usual style, and oh boy did I find it: A sea foam green, lacy blouse.  And I thought it was super cute. I tried it on in the dressing room, and while its cut seemed a little strange to me, I felt that I could pull it off. Stupidly, I bought it, without finding another opinion. Y’all, the truth is, the blouse was the ugliest thing in the world. It had the incredible power of making everyone who dared to wear it look shapeless and box-like. Once I modeled it for my darling roomies, they quickly told me how awful it was.

Everyone needs a good shopping buddy, someone to tell you their honest opinion of your ideas and to prevent you from spending time on something doomed from the start. I’m blessed to have several such people in my life:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

This is My Little Working Thesis

So far, this thesis is something of a comparison claim, but I'm not really happy with it yet. Comparison is my default type of thesis, and I don't want it to be that way, so this is really still in the works. And I'm not even sure this is what I want to write about, so stay tuned for more.

Working thesis
Morrie Schwartz's life philosophies of responsibility, kindness, and childlike love are amplified and proven correct when they're applied to Alice. Her careless, childish behaviors are the antithesis of Morrie's behavior, which make his theories more relevant and tangible by comparison, since she's such a poor example of them.

I've posted this on Facebook, and I'm planning to continue to circulate it there and ask a couple friends for specific responses to get some good feedback so I can come up with a better thesis that I actually want to write about.

This Post Includes Pirates

Every smart writer has great people behind them backing them up. Parents and friends, peers and critics--in order to be a good writer, you need readers. I'm no exception to this rule, of course. I have close friends and loved ones that proof read, comment on, criticize, praise, and revise my writing because they love me and they want to help. My first source of this help is usually my fiance, Kurt.

The Power of an Audience

Creators need audiences.

By audiences I don't mean people who happen to pass by, merely glance at your painting and leave just enough time to mumble "how nice" before moving on. I refer specifically to friends, family and peers who loyally read anything you write, appreciate any music you compose, and compliment anything you draw. Without someone to please, it's difficult for the creator to produce anything creative and it's rarely any fun.

In fact -- and perhaps it's a little vain to say it -- I think one of the most important things an aspiring scholar, artist or babbling mad scientist can have is an attentive and loyal audience. 

I'll give you an example from my own life. For several years I've participated in NaNoWriMo, a yearly challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. It's been pretty fulfilling for me -- since my head is always stuffed to bursting with strange lands, silly characters and bad puns -- but I've mostly done it simply to prove to myself that I was determined enough to finish. I've never exactly had a huge audience, if I've ever had one at all. But that all changed one fateful semester in 2012, in my Physical Science 101 class.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Love Is Friendship On Fire

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a book.

I was 18 when we were first introduced. I had to find a novel to read for my AP English class, and it had to be written before the 20th century. I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t dense and boring. Then, my dad suggested I read Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. It was love at first sight. I was addicted to this book. Over the years I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’m not usually one to reread books.
In one of the earliest chapters, there is a line that I continue to find breathtakingly beautiful. I have since committed it to memory:
The sky was clear, remarkably clear, and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse.
The imagery of that line continues to amaze and entrance me. When I read it, I am suddenly thrust into the scene, gazing up at the stars in awe. The idea that the night sky had a pulse, and was therefore alive somehow, struck something deep inside of me. To this day I continue to find a simple joy in gazing up at the stars on a clear night and trying to find that “common pulse.”

Creative Commons License 2.0 │ ForestWander

The Binding is Our Friend

The Binding is Our Friend

If I try to recall them, there are only a few phrases of reprimand that I heard growing up that I actually learned from, and it has become a life-long motto:  The Binding is Our Friend! 

My parents are both avid readers. They have different tastes when it comes to genre and style, but they are both book devourers. Sometimes, they'll even read a book together. If you enter my parent's room, you'll most assuredly find a book on my dad's bedside table, with a mechanical pencil resting on top of it (his favorite marking tool). If you turn into the bathroom, you will find books (and magazines) of every kind on the edge of the bathtub where my mom does a lot of her reading. These are the examples I grew up with, and I am grateful for it.

Broken Bangala

           This book did not inspire me.

            It was not the sort of text that uplifts, nor did it cast any sort of light on or offer deliverance from the human experience. It was dark and broken and made you look too close at things that are painful, inhumane, even nauseating. However, the first time I read The Poisonwood Bible, I fell in love.  Why? Because it validated me.
            The problem with children of the post-modern era (or post-post-modern, depending on how technical you want to get) is that we are always looking for validation without a reason, without a moral, without an all-powerful explanation to simplify everything. Our literature is about social statements, about tearing down walls and upsetting binaries, about pushing the limits and muddying the water and making everything incredibly, incredibly complicated. We are like this because our lives are broken, our families are broken, our white-picket fences and family rooms and tenderly laid-out dinner tables have been steam-rolled by pharmaceuticals, by commercial advertising, by processed foods and corrupt politicians and pointless wars and a god we have repackaged and repurposed so many times as to make him totally unrecognizable. In The Poisonwood Bible, I found validation. It took the ugliness, the flaws, the incompetence, the fears, the doubts all hidden on the inside and brought them out into the sunshine. It didn’t try to heal the reader, but at least it let us look at ourselves without feeling shame.

            The novel takes the form of personal narrative from the point of view of each of the females in the Price family—all have a voice, from the wilting mother, to the baby, Ruth May, to the handicapped Adah, who refuses to be swathed in politically-correct innocence but unabashedly manifests herself to be as twisted on the inside as only someone suffering from that level of neglect could be.
            The only character with which we are forced to rely on the opinions and words of his family is the father of the Prices, the stern and proud Reverend, the holiest character yet the cause of so much anguish to his little family. Growing up in a very post-modern family where the father had taken off shortly after my birth, I found the character of the Reverend fascinating. He was a romantic character—the devout, strong, Christian hero, the missionary, the handsome provider. He was a character that would appeal to women on a variety of levels, yet we resent him even as we love him. I feel I understand this paradox well. Adah writes of her father:
“TATA JESUS IS BANGALA!” declares the Reverend every Sunday at the end of his sermon. More and more, mistrusting his interpreters, he tries to speak in Kikongo. He throws back his head and shouts these words to the sky, while his lambs sit scratching themselves in wonder. Bangala means something precious and dear. But the way he pronounces it, it means the poisonwood tree. Praise the Lord, hallelujah, my friends! For Jesus will make you itch like nobody’s business.” 

Bangala. Perhaps the easy tipping of the word is the point of the book, the point of a post-modernist’s life. Something can be precious and dear, but said wrong, handled wrong, treated wrong and it becomes an affliction. The Poisonwood Bible is about how religion and families and love and strength and faith are all bangala—so much potential for good, so much potential for bad. For me, though this book does dip at times into a modern-day Paradise Lost, it doesn’t try to be the anti-Bible or debunk Christianity as a whole. It just tries to validate the times when things go wrong, when families go wrong, when faith goes wrong. This book did not inspire me or uplift me or even make me feel good. It did, however, let me look at my life, my father, all of my bangala without shame.

Cinderella, you have some explaining to do.

My first encounter with Gail Carson Levine was in Elementary School when I stumbled upon her collection of fairy tales retold entitled The Princess Tales.

I was immediately drawn to Levine’s writing style and skill with fairy tale adaptation.

I yearned for more.

A few years later I picked up this Newbury Honor book: Ella Enchanted.

I’m surprised I didn't find Ella sooner.

Knowledge is Stronger Than Memory

            During my senior year of high school, my English teacher told us that we would be reading Dracula. I rolled my eyes at the thought of reading yet another required book. Why?  I had only truly enjoyed one book that any of my high school English teachers assigned and that was The Count of Monte Cristo. And, being the stubborn young woman that I am, I was decided that this was to be yet another one of those boring books they called classics.

            I knew I wasn’t going to like this book. I could feel it deep in my gut. In fact, I had seen the old movie adaptations of Dracula and I knew I wasn’t interested. The whole vampire thing just didn’t get me. I didn’t care how eloquent, attractive, or powerful vampires are; they are still dead. I was also a little afraid to read the book. Vampires—and Dracula in particular—are so sexual and I wasn’t comfortable reading those sorts of novels. But, I had faith in my teacher so I began to read.

Looking Towards Reality

Looking Towards Reality
            Life isn't always easy, and one thing that I've found to be true time and time again is that it will shock you back to reality at the earliest possible moment. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, I've found that the American Realism movement, which embodies a large portion of the idea mentioned above, speaks the most poignantly to me. One author in particular, Ambrose Bierce, is a favorite of mine. His short work, Chickamauga, is one example of many where I feel he uses poignant realism to drive home the harsh realities of life.

 "One sunny autumn afternoon a child strayed away from its rude home in a small field and entered a forest unobserved. It was happy in a new sense of freedom from control, happy in the opportunity of exploration and adventure; for this child's spirit, in bodies of its ancestors, had for thousands of years been trained to memorable feats of discovery and conquest... From the cradle of its race it had conquered its way through two continents and passing a great sea had penetrated a third, there to be born in war and dominion as heritage."

The opening passage to Chickamauga is moving to me because it relates to the reader of the confidence we have in ourselves when life is going well. I find this relates well to my personal life. I grew up in an otherwise excellent middle-class home where I did sports and was good at school, but was struck by mental and physical illness around the time I was 15. My physical and mental illness became severe enough that I was forced to drop out of high school and stay at an in-patient hospital for some time. During this time I wasn't allowed to speak with my friends, and I had limited contact with my family. Eventually I was released when they felt the medication had stabilized me enough to live a somewhat normal life, but truthfully I was still very far from that point. At this point in my life I had no friends I could safely associate with, my family didn't completely understand what was wrong with me, and I suffered excruciating depression at my plight.

 They were men. They crept upon their hands and knees. They used their hands only, dragging their legs. They used their knees only, their arms hanging idle at their sides. They strove to rise to their feet, but fell prone in the attempt. They did nothing naturally, and nothing alike, save only to advance foot by foot in the same direction.

The story of Chickamauga is one of a boy who imagines himself on the field of battle, only to fall asleep and actually find himself in the aftermath of a real battle. Here the story relates to the broken bodies of the survivors in their dreadful attempt to escape their agony. In relation to myself, I felt as if my illness had rendered me paralyzed with life. I felt as if I was a soldier who had been broken and beaten, and the people around me were like the boy who could never understand the reality of the situation.

Shifting his position, his eyes fell upon some out-buildings which had an oddly familiar appearance, as if he had dreamed of them. He stood considering them with wonder, when suddenly the entire plantation, with its inclosing forest, seemed to turn as if upon a pivot. His little world swung half around; the points on the compass were reversed. he recognized the blazing building as his own home!

At the end of the story, the boy awakes from his battle fantasy to find that his own home and family have been consumed by the reality of war. In the story, the boy stands there with "quivering lips," and the story ends.
            This concept of a sudden awakening in Bierce's stories is one I find I can relate with time and time again. From the time we're born and raised, I believe all of us expect that we'll live a normal life. We believe we'll excel at the things we enjoy, and that eventually we'll find happiness in the order we set for ourselves. In my experience, however, life is anything except a lesson in normalcy. My illness crippled my dreams of a normal high school experience with all the "normal" friends and activities. Even now, I find it's a struggle just to balance my illness against every day adult life. No matter what I want to imagine, life doesn't care what I want out of it. This "awakening" to reality has left me with many questions: How can a person be happy when your life is burned to the ground? Is it fair to the child in "Chickamauga" that his fantasy became a morbid reality? Is anything "fair" to any of us?

            These questions are ones the Bierce forces on his readers. Bierce never gives us a straight answer to any of these questions though. More often than not, his stories follow the same path that life does: we live under the illusion of control, and life shocks us back to reality. The point of "Realism" is not to answer life's questions, but to remind us that the world doesn't care about what's "right" and "wrong." Life and reality simply happens, and we have to find our own methods of dealing with it. For myself, I'm still looking for ways to deal with my own reality. In the meantime though, I find that Ambrose Bierce's "Chickamauga" does an excellent job posing a reality that few of us can challenge. 

When I First Noticed the Sun Rise

Who doesn't like a good bull fight?
It’s hard to explain why I love the works of writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Borges. I live so far removed from the world and time to which they belonged. I can’t necessarily relate to the crisis of identity experienced by the Lost Generation. I can’t say that I live a lavish lifestyle surrounded by the epitome of decadence. I don’t often dance the line between reality and fantasy either.  What I can appreciate is the idea of trying to express and represent new sensibilities of the time. The great writers challenged the status quo and reassessed the prevailing assumptions regarding reality. That is something I respect and admire. My first such experience with this revolutionary style of writing came when I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

It Found Me

  Creative Commons License 2.0, by Philip Halling
Creative Commons License 2.0, by Philip Halling
It happened one day when I was cleaning my room.

I was hunched over on my knees, stretching my arm as far as it would go under the metal frame of the bunk bed. I had worked up a steady rhythm of pulling out wrinkled book reports from third grade, discarded Legos and ancient doodles I had done on notebook paper. Then, suddenly, my exploring fingers found a book -- a tattered old thing, decades old; the pages were yellow and the cheap, silvery cover was hanging off by a couple threads. "The Phantom Tollbooth," it read. I flipped open to a random page.

There I came across a boy named Milo, who was conversing with a Spelling Bee -- a huge, talking bee that spelled words as he said them -- in the middle of a market where words were sold. I was hooked. I could not put that book down until I had read until the very end, even though I hadn't even read the beginning yet.

A Thousand Splendid Reasons read A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Okay, so maybe I won't detail a thousand splendid reasons, although after reading it, there are easily quite a few reasons to read it. I will just detail the first reason that came to mind.

That reason is feminism.

I first picked up Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns after I had been read his first novel, The Kite Runner. I found myself falling in love with his writing style and the stories he has to tell, being a modern Afghani author now living in the United States. And in A Thousand Splendid Suns, I found some things I wanted to cheer on.

The Book Thief's Words

“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.” 

This image and the multitude of other amazing images within The Book Thief contribute to my love of this book. The beauty of words within this novel compare so easily with the attention to words within the storyline. As Liesel fell in love with words, I quickly followed suit.

Liesel, the young German protagonist of The Book Thief, begins the novel as an illiterate young girl. Her desire to learn to read stems from the first theft in the story. Liesel steals a book entitled, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. As she learns to read, with help from her adoptive father, Hans, she discovers the joy of words. As Liesel uncovered the pleasure that can come from words, I was thoroughly impressed by the gorgeous language use throughout the novel. Each page offered up a new gem, a new favorite quote. Quotes that dripped with imagery, quotes that drew out a laugh, quotes that produced tears. This novel became the ultimate book of beautiful imagery for me.

Words: Inadequate and Plentiful

Creative Commons License 2.0 / Jeffery Wright

I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like the time period, the setting, or the strange and tragic plot. 

I had to read As I Lay Dying for my AP Literature class during my senior year of high school, and it was a struggle. In that class, we would read the book first, and try not to discuss it in too much detail until the date upon which everyone should have finished (which I didn't do). Then, we would begin together. Our teacher would take the black and white print and transform it into a compendium of literary genius and philosophical insight. 

Through our discussion, what at first was an incomprehensible string of “is’s” and “is nots” in a paragraph narrated by the apparently insane character, Darl, slowly developed into a deeply profound and unsettling thought process about the reality of human existence. Reminiscent of Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore, I am”), Darl comes to the conclusion,
And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. (Faulkner 72)
I must be honest and say that most of this is over my head. However, Faulkner’s mastery of the English language—his bold use of stream of consciousness and his manipulation of verbs into nouns—affected me then and deeply affects me now. In this way, language is magic.