Monday, December 3, 2012

What It Means to Dream

I've been thinking a lot about dreams.  No, not the kind you have while you sleep - I mean, the kind you write down on the lists of your heart, the kind you work and plan for, the kind you stay up all night studying for, the kind you want to achieve because you just don't think you could live happily if you didn't.

Everyone has a lot of advice on dreams like these.  I've heard some of them...
My least favorite one:

"Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars."  -Author unknown
{Oh, really?  And on what surface exactly would you be "landing" on?  Is there a secret, hidden bed of happiness where people go after just missing their dream?  I get the central point of it, but do we really need to cheese it up with all the celestial talk?!}
By contrast, a few of my faves:

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."  -Benjamin Franklin  {Obvious genius!}

"Energy and persistence conquer all things."  -Benjamin Franklin  {Undeniable genius!!}
Ah, yes!  There it is!  The secret to achieving goals - which really isn't that big of a secret - is persistence.  The dictionary defines persistence as "firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.    

{If you're now thinking:  Ok, Dream Weaver, what's this got to do with literature?!  Just hold your horses!}

Lately, I have been struggling to persevere.  Even though I know it isn't the case, I have felt like I am completely alone and like no one on the planet understands how hard it is to keep trying for a dream but never get it.  

After a few days of wallowing around in my own personal pity pool {and subsequently, procrastinating on a bunch of school stuff}, I finally managed enough focus to complete one assignment for my ENGL112 class.

I read Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. And boy, am I glad I did.

I'm not going to go into all the details of the story - although I think it's a great one - but I do want to talk a little about my favorite character, Ruth Younger.

Like practically everyone, Ruth has dreams.  They might seem simple to others, but, to her, they are mighty mountains to move.  She wants a house for her family.  She wants her marriage to survive despite the many rough patches and arguments.  She wants more.  And just when it seems like God has given her family a hand-up, another thing pushes them back down.  {Don't even act like you've never used the phrase "One step forward, and two steps back" to describe your own lack of goal achievement...}  When it would be so simple and understandable for Ruth to just throw her hands up and quit trying, she does just the opposite.  She digs her heels in, she finds her voice, and she proclaims that they will proceed.  Ruth Younger exemplifies persistence.

Sometimes literature surprises you.  A story can be good for a laugh, or a cry.  It can teach about another culture or place.  It can even teach you about you!

For almost a week, I had allowed myself to take a break from persistence.  I had been sitting around just thinking about how badly I wanted to achieve my dreams. 

The fact is that one of the necessary steps to obtaining one of my dreams was completing that blasted assignment!  Had I been persevering like my BFBF {Best Friend, Benjamin Franklin - duh!} instructed, I would have swiftly read A Raisin in the Sun.  I could have saved myself all of that unfocused wasting of energy!  I would have immediately realized I needed to buck up and channel my inner Ruth...

Kudos to you, literature!  Thanks for reminding me that nothing comes to those who give up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Different Pages for Different Sages?!

Okay, let's be honest with one another.  I'm just going to get it right out there in the open:


I guess I should clarify my statement.  Of course, I've never actually met the woman.  She was born in 1830 and died in 1886 - a little before my time {by, like, 100 years}!

But I have met her work, and it is not for me.

Before you all get your virtual pitchforks out, let me first state that I am in no way saying that Dickinson wasn't a good writer.  She obviously knew how to write poetry.  Her body of work has endured for over a century.  There is certainly talent behind something with that much staying power.  I am capable of appreciating that, as well as her zealous use of my favorite literary device: the metaphor!

What I don't appreciate, though, is her free form, simple language, death-y {No, it isn't a real word - But it is soooo necessary here!} poetry.  I crave the strict forms, predictable meters, and ridiculous verbosity of old, old-school poems.  I actually prefer a poem that seems really difficult to understand, but is actually discussing a simple topic VS. Dickinson's seems-really-simple-to-understand-but-is-actually-an-uber-complex-concept!  But I digress...

I will give Emily this, though.  People the world over seem to adore her.  Some of them love her for the very reasons I just told you that I hate her.

To prove this point, I made a little internet trip over to faithful Pinterest and typed in "Emily Dickinson."  You know what I got in return?  A seemingly endless amount of results in the form of pictures, quotes, books, and even tattoo ideas!  {Really, people?  Dickinson forever etched into your skin?  MEH!}

I guess what I'm getting at is that every reader loves or hates something different...  And that's okay!

You know:

...  Different books for different cooks?!
...  Different reads for different breeds?!

Maybe not.

{READ ON anyhow!}

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Modern-day Scarlet Letters

Last time I checked in here, I shared a cross-section of Classic Meets Modern {literature style}.  And today, I've got another example of the ties between something that might seem archaic {like, I don't know, a story from 1850} and something else that is completely here and now.

My entire ENGL222 class is currently immersed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

This classic bit of literature focuses on Hester Prynne, who is sentenced to wear the book's namesake embroidered on her clothing for the remainder of her days.  Her crime?  Adultery - thus "the scarlet letter" is actually an "A".  The book is set in puritanical Boston during the mid-1600s.

Her very public and degrading punishment instantly made me think of these:

{This 12-year-old girl's mother happened
to catch an online photo of her with a Vodka bottle.
The consequence was swift and public.
The picture above was posted on
her Facebook page for all to see...}

{The trend is even catching on with pet owners...
This one always makes me giggle!}
The modern-day version of the scarlet letter may not entail walking through the center of town and standing on a scaffold as it did in Hawthorne's pivotal work.  It may have gotten a makeover and been upgraded to work even virtually, but it is nevertheless making a reemergence.

Although the two examples above were chosen by "parents," there have been actual legal cases where a judge issued the convicted to wear similar signs in a public area.

I wonder what Hester {and her literary creator} would think of this...  I wonder what you think of it, too!

Monday, November 12, 2012

POE-tic Humor in the Modern Age

<----  I saw this little treasure on Facebook today!  I so love finding that people out there still know how to read...

In case any of you readers - ummm...  do people actually read this?! - are unfamiliar with elements of this meme:

The original "99 Problems" is a popular rap song by superstar Jay-Z.  Its lyrics are not academia- or child-appropriate, but suffice it to say that the song's central message is that getting a girl is not one of the guy's 99 problems.

This 'geek-chic' parody of the song refers to Edgar Allan Poe's The Cast of Amontillado.  In keeping with his eerily entertaining and darkly provocative standards, Poe's Montresor exacts revenge on his peer, Fortunato, by luring him down into the wine cellar and catacombs with the promise of a very fine and rare alcohol called Amontillado.  Once far below the ground, Montresor  captures Fortunato - whose Italian name equates to "lucky" {Haha, Poe!  You devil!} - by chaining him to a cellar wall and then immuring him, thus sentencing him to death by starvation and dehydration. Although Montresor is the criminal here, Fortunato's indulgent overuse of alcohol is what dooms him.

{Side note here:  Yes, Poe was a little crazy...  maybe more than a little...}

The Cast of Amontillado could certainly be considered creepy, but it's also an interesting read.  As usual, Poe's writing captivates readers with its delectably dark descriptions while not completely answering their questions.  {I both hate and love this quality of Poe's stories.}

Anyhow, back to the picture:  Sometimes Facebook makes me cringe.  There is plenty of internet drivel {Uh-oh!  Is this nonsense, too?!} that showcases all the less-intelligent ideas brought forth from humanity.  But every now and then, I come across something that requires a little knowledge and that ever-welcome wryness that can be rare these days.

Good literature is timeless.  Good humor is, too.  Today's post is really all about the way that those two things sometimes come together.  There are a lot of ways this might happen, but today it occurred when Jay-Z was introduced to Poe!  A delightful encounter indeed...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Women Warriors in Literature

One of our featured authors in our Anti-Transcendalists Pod was feminist Fanny Fern.

I had never heard of or read anything by Fern - whose real name was Sarah Willis Parton - before this class.

I was quickly caught-up in her rebellious and outspoken manner as I read through the selections.
As a woman that is often annoyed with sexist attitudes, I found myself feeling elated at Fern’s sharp wit and observations while feeling saddened that these experiences and examples were an actuality for women in Fern’s time.

Fern utilizes both schools of thought to present full information on the times.  For her to dispute common cultural ideas, she needed to illustrate the ridiculousness of popular opinion.  Just when you think she’s re-affirming male superiority, she shows her true colors by blasting men with parody or satire!  

Fern’s daring and ferocious approach would have sent men into seizures, but women of her ilk, would have been inspired and further encouraged...  Or at least, I would have been!


My ENGL112 class just reviewed another feminist writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Again, I had never even heard her name.  Like Fern, Gilman set out to disrupt the placid lake of gender inequality.  Her "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a searing examination of gender roles and perspective on mental health during in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I appreciate how much of a journey the selection takes you on.  Not only does Gilman accurately describe the repression of women, but she also does a brilliant job of demonstrating the overwhelming suffocation of depression and mental illness.  The piece builds beautifully until it crescendos like a concerto.  It gains in intensity.  While I finished reading it, I felt tired.

Gilman's use of the wallpaper to reflect the decline of her mental state is genius.  I love the way she describes its pattern, color, and even smell.  Like depression, one can easily be consumed with trying to make heads or tails of something that others may view as simple.  I appreciate the way the wallpaper becomes this rolling machine that carries the story along into frightening oblivion.

The husband in the story makes me furious.  The lines where Gilman describes how much he loves and cares for her make me want to scream!  I hate how condescending he is.  I hate how he refuses to acknowledge the very reality of her depression and helplessness.  I know this was the prevailing view of mental illness in those times (and even up until a few decades ago).  The husband's existence and attitude are maddeningly accurate for Gilman's time.

Likewise, I find John's sister to be irritating as well.  Gilman's reference to the fact that the sister is a "perfect and enthusiast housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession" and that she "thinks it is the writing" that has sickened Gilman makes me hate her even more.  As if it wasn't bad enough that women needed to fight men for their advancement, it is much worse to need to fight those of your own gender.  The repression of women by other women is a very real thing, even now.  It never fails to incite fury in me.

{What I'm Getting At...}

Both of these authors were pioneers in their time.

Women of their day were coached to be only good wives and mothers.  They should serve their husbands without expecting anything in return, cook lavish dinners but eat theirs cold if necessary, maintain the house impeccably while raising intelligent, "normal," but quiet children, and still be groomed and dressed in a manner that pleased their husband.  {And no, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a woman today that continues these goals; however, there IS something wrong with an entire culture that tells women they are incapable of anything else.}  

At great personal costs, Fern and Gilman utilized their writing as a means to inspire women to respect themselves even if no one else did.  Their ideas and words proclaimed that there could be more for any woman who wanted it.  Not only did F & G refuse to submit to cultural norms, they essentially called for a revolution.

I'm sure that there were times when they wondered whether anything would ever change.  I'm sure name-calling, harassment, and hate mail were endured.  But I think they both knew the cause was greater than just their discomfort.

I wish I knew more "women warriors".  I haven't been this worked up in a long time!  "Write" on!  ;)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Talking like Thoreau

For the last few weeks, my ENGL222 class has been reviewing the works of Transcendentalists.

Whether you know that specific term or not, I feel confident you have heard of three major Transcendentalists - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.

All of these authors wrote thoughtful and descriptive literature.

Thoreau, in particular, had a way of painting a picture with his words. His ever-popular Walden (or Life in the Woods) is filled with natural imagery and self-examination.

One of our assignment options this week was to write something that similarly showcased the beauty of nature.

Here is mine:

Journeying to the Mountain

We left in the early morning hours on a gray Friday in October. Our bags, bursting at their zippers, were waiting silently, if not resentfully, for their long and bumpy ride in the trunk. My breath was a cloud hanging in the chilly air, and my still-sleepy eyes stung in the cold. Even the car seemed less than eager for the journey. It sat, almost alone in the parking lot, covered with a shimmering lace of frost.

We loaded up our provisions – spices, food, drinks, blankets, boots, clothes, games – quite the load for only a long weekend! The car was almost spiteful now and attempted to refuse all of our packages. Is it possible that the back seat shrunk in rebellion? Or perhaps, we should simply have packed lighter?

Twenty frustrating minutes later, we climbed into our seats. Having not planned on such a physically-demanding exercise as loading the car proved to be, a fine sheen of sweat appeared on our faces as once perfectly-warm sweaters now became unbearable saunas. And this is how we finally departed from our tidy townhome – grumbling and grouchy…

We drove south for nearly an hour before the rains came. Deep, dark drops clattered onto the windshield at a rate far faster than the worn wipers cared to go. Huge clouds – voluminous with their moisture – formed a stern and foreboding ceiling where the sky was once at home. The streets mimicked a horizontal waterfall, if such a thing existed. Water drove down the highway as if it were just another traveler. The rain fought and eventually defeated the music we were trying to listen to. For almost five hours, the water poured down on us.

The fog followed its dreary friend. Thick, eerie masses of it surrounded us. For all we could see, we felt alone in a quiet bubble on the long stretches of road. The music, turned on again after the rain subsided, was subdued as if the musicians were still recovering from the storms or searching for their instruments and voices amongst the haze of fog.

On we drove, warm but no longer entrenched in our sweater saunas, tired but no longer yearning for the lush comfort of our bed. Our fatigue and irritation were replaced with wonder and curiosity as we drove through the hooded hills of Kentucky and Tennessee with their gleaming yellow signs proclaiming danger from fallen rocks. The sun mercilessly forced the fog’s retreat while we climbed the mountain roads.

After ten hours of driving, our reward was just above us. Hovering somewhere in the embrace of the mountaintop, a small, sloped cabin was carved for our comfort.

The car prepared for its final effort, surging forward up the steep passes. The trees, beginning to shed their green jackets in favor of their rich fall coats, loomed high above us, gazing down in solemn welcome. We rolled the windows down and let the sounds fill the space inside the car. Birds, sunnily chirping in the chill, sang out their greetings. The wind brought our old friend, fog, in again as we neared the summit where our cabin sat. The sun showed itself only in small tendrils curling through canopy clearings between the dense forest and rocky drop-offs.

Winding and climbing, winding and climbing, we finally reached our journey’s end. On top of old smoky, we finally appreciated and understood the result of our traveling effort.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The End Game


brushing up on books by Bronte,
climbing through Chaucer classics, 
examining Emerson and Euripides essays, 
playing peek-a-boo with Paine, Poe, and prose, 
studying Shakespeare's soliloquy and sonnets by Swift

... all in pursuit of an "A"!

This semester, I found myself taking two literature courses: ENGL222 {American Literature to 1865} and ENGL240 {Children's Literature}. I am also working my way through a writing class.

Somehow, next semester has shaped up to be very similar with ENGL223 {American Literature after 1865}, ENGL221 {World Literature II}, and ENGL202 {Creative Writing}.

In the last few years, my reading has been mainly education-related.

Assignments involved myriads of highlights, copious amounts of coffee, and mounds of mind-numbing textbooks. Historical reading made me sleepy and grumpy. Mathematical reading frustrated me and made feel as if I was losing IQ points. Science selections found me interested, but after-reading retention was an issue.

To be truthful, many a textbook went only scantily highlighted as a result of being barely read.

Reading for fun seemed like an immense luxury that was relegated to summertime.

As soon as Spring classes ended each May, I would rush to Amazon and catch up on all the books I'd missed. Inevitably, I'd find my Kindle crammed with mystery/suspense novels or "chic lit" musings. I would happily entrench myself in the latest James Patterson or Jennifer Weiner offerings through the summer days and, often, the summer nights too. Last summer, I read 17 books in twelve weeks. Most of them may not have been full of life-changing wisdom, but each of them was entertaining.

I was actually quite happy in my blissful, light fiction world; however, this semester has reminded me that there is something to heavier reading. Assignments don't necessarily have to lead to feelings of angst or rage!

This blog is all about me sharing the little joys I've discover by leaving the comforts of my normal reading niche.

So, get ready, put down your newspaper comics, and "read it like you mean it"!