Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I've decided that I don't like break...

Over my winter break this year, I have decided to work a lot. I need to make up for the one-day work weeks of the past few months... I enjoy my job, and I love seeing all the people that I work with. But I never get to see my boyfriend. If I work and evening shift, he is asleep by the time I wake up and gone to work by the time I get home. If I work a morning shift, he is still at work when I leave, and asleep when I get home. I haven't seen him since the day we came home from Christmas at my parents. This gets really frustrating, and is a horrible reminder of what summer was like, where we only saw each other one day a week. That is just sad, I mean, we live together! We should see each other more than that! Anyway, I know this is just temporary, but I really want things to change. I want Jonathan to have an atleast somewhat normal schedule, and I want to have a job with set hours. I want an apartment that is big enough so that I don't have to be super quiet when he is sleeping, or visa versa. Waiting for that day is just long and horrible.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


It's a funny word: home. What does it really mean? In high school, when I lived with my parents my home was our house. It was the place that I ate, slept, and did homework. I lived there for about eleven years. Then they sold it. And I realized that I really didn't miss it at all. This was, however, early on in my college career, during which I moved quite frequently. So, this place that I thought was home could really not have felt too much like home if I don't even miss it. To me, it's just a house.

The reason this has been on my mind is because so many people have asked me if I was going home for the holidays. And, well, I can't really say yes because I have never lived in the house that I go to, but at the same time I am going to my parents house to be with my family. So I usually just say I am going to spend time with my family up north. And that works... for Minnesotans who know what "up north" is...
Everybody else just asks more questions and then they get the long answer...

So, basically what I am saying is that often I don't feel like I have that Home. Not the physical place that you walk into and take a deep breath and relax knowing that you are in a safe comfortable place.
As with all college student, or people of the same age, separating from your parents is a difficult and emotional task. I would think that most people my age don't feel like they have a home.
We move from apartment to apartment, trying to save money on rent so that one day, maybe, we can get that house and raise a few kids. Then we would have a home.
But for now, for me, it is that in between stage of moving from horrible to worse.
Not that all of my living situations have been bad, most have been just less than ideal.
Dorm room...couldn't do it. Sharing a bathroom with twenty other girls, or just being around three times that many girls that live on the same floor who always want to gossip about who did what and blah blah blah... no thank you! That was a short-live three month failed experiment.
Then there was the moving back in with my parents for a short while... but they were also in the transition of moving to a new house and trying to sell the old house, which they did, a week or two before my lease started on my next apartment...
Couch surfing... always a fail safe where having a lot of friends comes in handy, as long as you don't mind using your car as a closet.
First real apartment... wow, what a nice place. Seriously, it was close to where I worked, I could afford it until lack of sleep made me crazy and I had to quit my job, then it was a stretch. Downside... they started construction shortly after we moved in that lasted until we moved out. Two cute girls living in a ground floor apartment... where do you think the construction workers set up camp?
Next was a pretty awesome deal. My mom needed a place to stay in the cities for a few nights a week, and a friend of hers was trying to sell this huge condo/townhouse/whatever and it was going pretty slow. So they let us rent it. My mom was barely there so I got the master bedroom with the separate bathroom and walk in closet, and even a separate vanity with two sinks... :) fireplace in the living room, decent kitchen, all new(ish) appliances, and (get this) a garage! Other than it looking like an old lady lived there, it was the perfect house. My mom and I had to decide if we should redecorate or leave all thirty vases of fake flowers up, along with the flower curtains and wicker furniture... we left most of it, (we didn't want to make it look soooo good that someone would buy it right away!
Once that deal was done, I did some more couch surfing, but only for a short period of time.
Then I moved in with a friend of my sister, who I think was the best roommate ever. And I love her 30lbs cat! The only thing that went wrong there was a broken water pipe in the wall of my closet that leaked out into the carpet, but only after leaving extreme amounts of black mold soaked through the wall.... while she was in Mexico. It was quite the experience, but was solved rather quickly.
Now I am living in a tiny apartment that I cannot even describe without veins popping out of my forehead. Lets just say things like to go wrong, and I will be a very picky apartment shopper from now on!
But still, none of these were ever home. They were always some temporary space to sleep and stash my crap. Since my first apartment, I have not had enough space to have all of my belongings. I know I have a lot of just crap. But its crap that I love. My hundreds of books, all my art supplies, my art desk! these are things that I want in my apartment. But that won't happen anytime soon. And I'm not sure that having all that will make where I live feel anymore like home.
SO here is the cliche now... Home is where the heart is. Home is being with the one's you love. So much of this is based on a wonderful song called home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, which you can play below...
"home is wherever I'm with you"
this is Jonathan and my new favorite song! I think it suits us well, even though it is a bunch of hippies singing it ! :) :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas present and Christmas past

While this Christmas was pretty consistent with the last few, aka spending a weekend or so up north at my parents house playing in the snow, hot tubbing, bonfires, good food, good wine... we also watched quite a few home movies that were recorded fifteen years ago, at least!
My parents recently decided that it was time to switch convert our VHS home videos to DVD, so they can actually last. My mom bought a program for her Mac that does that, so there has been a constant stream of children giggling, screaming, and jabbering away all weekend.
We definitely didn't get to all of them. I don't think any of us realized how many there were! But we did watch a few, and they were quite entertaining. One of the best parts was seeing my family, like the cousins aunts and uncles, and just how different they looked. How, even when she was a cute little baby, you can still tell which one is my cousin Brittany. And just seeing how may kids there were, all running around grandma and grandpa's old farm house... it was so funny!
Another really fun thing that I saw was what I believe to be the beginning of my addiction to ice cream. In the video, my mom is eating a sunday, and she goes to give me a little taste. I think I was probably almost one or so here. And I wasn't too sure about it, but then... I kept coming back for more. and more. and more. I actually made a really cute grumpy face at my mom when she took a break from feeding me to take a bite herself. But then my eyes just lit up when I got a bite again! This explains so much!
Oh and there were the embarrassing videos for my boyfriend to see as well. I think the one of me in the bathtub wiggling my butt at the camera counts for that...
My sister was so funny in these too. In the later ones, she runs away and absolutely refuses to be caught on tape... Leah, camera shy? what?! She was just at that crabby pre-teen girl age...
But there will be some really great ones of her coming up with her very own exercise lessons, and we can never forget the peeing ponies, or the chicken pox parade...
gosh, now that these are on DVD and actually accessible, they will probably be shown a heck of a lot more often... :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter driving

Ever since my drive to Des Moines Iowa, I have been a little frightened of winter driving. My best friend and I drove down there about three years ago during one of the biggest snowstorms of the year. We were driving to a red hot chili peppers concert, and we really didn't want to miss it... long story. Well, anyway, Iowa hates me, and every time I drive through it there is a blizzard. This particular time though, my car spun out, and I learned that semi drivers are fucking crazy. Excuse my language, but it's true. We almost got hit my may fishtailing trucks, and then almost crapped our pants when I a semi was sliding, faster than we were driving, jack-knifed down the highway behind us... not fun.
So when Jonathan and I decided to drive up to my parents last night, I was a little hesitant, and extremely panicked. He had to yell at me for backseat driving a few times... I kept telling him not to follow cars too closely, even though he really wasn't. Well, eventually I calmed down. After the traffic disappeared it was not nearly as scary. That, plus a bit of lack of sleep slap happiness mad it extremely entertaining.
When we got onto the two lane highways we could not see the road. They were not plowed, and no one had driven on them. We just had to drive between the two ditched and hope for the best. At one point, we had to stop and scrape off the windshield wipers that had become covered in ice. We just stopped in the middle of the road... :) there was no one there. Then we almost hit a frickin huge deer! Well, we were going slow enough that it would not have damaged either of us, but would have made on large deer very pissed off...
the rest of the drive went alright. It just took forever! Driving over 100 miles at 30mph is not very fun. And then we got there! And got totally stuck in the driveway... After four tries of backing up and driving as fast as we could, not to mention trying to physically push it up the hill, we finally made it up... and then got stuck again... and repeated the aforesaid actions... THEN we made it :) Both my parents were awake, and worried. But all in all, it was a good ride. Not actually too dangerous because we drove so slow, and at most we would have gotten stuck in a ditch with out car full of snow gear and two laundry bags of clothes. We would have been fine, but still, I am thankful that it didn't come to that.
And now I am enjoying a wonderful Christmas eve day with my family. FUn filled with snow shoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, and making grilled cheese over the fire while drinking wine! Love it! Time to go cook some delicious food!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Done with finals!! (Drinking Wine!)

Today was my last final! And it was ridiculous! Some of the questions were completely unnecessary, and we never even talked about them in class. Oh well, I still will probably get a decent grade in the class. Survey courses don't require a lot of thinking, just a lot of reading...
Anyway, I am really excited to go up north to see my parents for Christmas! Jonathan and I are going up really late tomorrow night. Him and I had a little mix up the other day... He was supposed to work Wednesday (overnight) and I had it off. Well, I thought that since I would have nothing to do, I should pick up a shift. And he thought that it would be nice to give away his shift. SO, now I am working til 11pm on Wednesday, and he is not working at all. It will work out just fine though, because we are both night owls, and will just drive up when I get off work.
Not to mention that we will have some kick ass music to listen to!
As a Christmas surprise this year, Jonathan took my car out today to "run errands." Well, his errand was putting a new stereo system in my car!! :) Now I can hook my Ipod up to it! It was completely unexpected! And sounds really good:)
Now, I am relaxing and enjoying a bottle of one of my favorite wines :) Awhile back, I bought like $100 worth of wine (which is a lot when you get it from Trader Joe's at a discount) and now I am really happy that I did, because I am too poor to go out or buy any sort of beer or wine. This is my last bottle of Bastardo though :(
For anyone who does not know, Trader Joe's has the best wine ever! This Bastardo de Nerelo that I am drinking right now is delicious, and cheap! It is basically a Nerello, but cannot technically be called so because of Italian wine laws... so they dropped an "l" and left off the government label and shipped it to America. The reason that it cannot be an actual Nerello is because only a certain amount of wine from a barrel may have the gov't labels, this wine is what is left. So this $7.99 bottle of wine is the same juice of a very nice $64.99 bottle... which one would you buy??
I would recommend this bottle to anyone! It is a great full-bodied red, just a hint oaky, perfectly dry, and not too heavy. Goes well with dark chocolate, or a good steak!
ok, I know I sound like an advertisement, but this is my favorite part of my job... telling people about the wine in our store. I've gotten pretty good at it too! Since I frequently get to do the wine tasting, my knowledge and tastes have developed into an almost snobbish quality, and I love it :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rereading Jane Austen

I haven't read a lot of Jane Austen, I would say just the average amount. I have read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. I was supposed to reread S&S this past semester, but skipped out on it since I remembered the basic story line and knew enough about Austen's writing techniques to get by in a survey course. But next semester, my senior seminar is on Jane Austen and George Eliot. And guess what?! I get to reread S&S and P&P!
Since I will also be reading like 8 other books, I decided to start now. (and I am actually reading them thoroughly, since it's for my senior thesis). So I started with P&P...
I forgot how much Austen makes me happy. She has great characters, and amazing character development. I also love her use of free indirect discourse. I always thought that if I wrote fiction, she would have to be my role model. I just like how she writes.
So, more on her characters...
The dad in the story, Mr. Bennet, is probably one of my favorite characters in the beginning of the book. He kind of reminds me of my dad. He is always joking and teasing his wife. I know that how he treats his wife and daughters is not always kindly looked upon by critics, but I think it is his in his own endearing way. He love all of his daughters, but just happens to acknowledge that some of them are not as smart as the others, and are in fact silly. That, to me, is not being mean, just realistic. Mostly I just love how much he teases his wife.
One thing that I found really interesting (because I also love the movie P&P with Kiera Knightly) is that in the most recent movie, Elizabeth Bennet is a much stronger and extroverted character than she is in the book. If you were to only look at her in the movie, you would not thing Austen to be the extremely politically conservative and Christian woman that she was. In the book, Elizabeth is smart and playful, and only slightly outspoken. In the movie, she is always right, extremely outspoken, and thinks very highly of herself. I think that I like the book and the movie equally, but I see them as almost totally different stories. Obviously the basic plot is the same, but the emphasis and main points are slightly different. I think that I respect the movie Elizabeth more as a person and character, but the book is just so pleasant to read...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Already frustrated..

Today is my last day of actual classes for the semester. I have one more tonight where all I have to do is listen to presentations, since I already did mine. Then I have one more final, and a take home essay test to complete for next Tuesday. I actually didn't know what to do with myself between classes today! I have been so overwhelmingly busy for the past three months, that having nothing to do all of a sudden was almost a shock.
Well, I decided to try and be productive anyway. I looked for jobs! This started out somewhat entertaining... trying to figure out what my dream job would be...
But then I realized I don't have any idea what that would be! I really don't know what I want to do. This wasn't so disconcerting because I know that almost no one my age know what they really want to do. But then, I decided to look at attainable jobs... There were only one or two listed.
This is going to be harder than I think.

My degree qualifies me to be a secretary, basically. Not that being a secretary is a bad thing, I just would go crazy sitting in a desk and making coffee all day.
The only jobs in editing and publishing that are available are the really high up jobs. There were more job postings for VPs of companies than there were for copy editors.
So I looked at jobs in different fields that could still use and English nerd like myself. Those jobs require experience in each separate field. Ten years in advertising. Seven in sales. Five in aggressive negotiations... what the hell is that?!
I did find a few other options if I want to go to law school. Some of the companies even allow you to have less hours during the school year! How exciting... too bad I really have no interest in law.
So, looks like I may do a bit of freelance writing while working at good old Trader Joe's... And submit my resume EVERYWHERE so maybe SOMEONE will look at it and MAYBE give me and interview...
Everybody talk about how bad the economy is. Working at a grocery store, I somehow missed the memo. I have a great part-time job. And people gotta eat! Now that I am seeing that it may be awhile before I find a full time job that actually uses my literature skills and challenges me intellectually, I am extremely thankful that I have a job that gives me great health insurance! I am hanging on to this job as long as I can!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Elements of the Gothic from Walpole to Stoker

DISCLAIMER: This may be extremely boring! :) I am kind of a nerd (and proud of it!) so I find this fascinating. Also, it's for a class. Just finished typing it up!

As the Gothic novel developed into a more supernaturally concerned story, the architecture within the stories remained an important facet. The most obvious thing that changed with the architecture found in Gothic novels was the decadent description of it. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole and Bram Stoker's Dracula contain architectural structures that achieve the same effect; they serve as a prison with supernatural events that occur within its walls. The architecture displayed in these stories, while not specifically Gothic in structure, contain many elements of the Gothic that is necessary to these stories to add or provide more mystery and detail. These elements of Gothic architecture are separate from the structural form. They are the qualities in the architecture that emphasize the mysterious supernatural qualities found within Gothic literature. In comparing these two novels, it can be seen that the qualities of Gothic architecture which Walpole embodied in his novel are still present in Gothic literature one hundred years later.
Gothic literature can be defined by simply having supernatural qualities within it and also having some sort of antiquity (Scarborough 6). However, there are many more elements to the Gothic in terms of style, and even in the use of architecture within the story. In her book The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction, Dorothy Scarborough says that in Gothic literature, “the relationship between supernatural effect and Gothic architecture, scenery, and weather is strongly stressed” (8). She adds, “Not only is architecture made subservient to the needs of Gothic fiction but the scenery likewise is adapted to it (10). Scarborough is asserting the importance of the use of architecture, among scenery and weather, within the Gothic novel. She does not specify that the architecture must be Gothic in structure, but rather is “possessing all the antique glooms that increase the effect of mystery and awe” (9). Using her definition, the actual structure of a building within a Gothic story can be of any form, as long as it follows some specific elements of the Gothic.
Walpole's The Castle of Otranto is generally considered the first Gothic novel according to Scarborough (8). She describes the Gothic novel as marking “a distinct change in the form of literature in which the supernaturalism manifests itself” (6). Walpole's novel fits this description by being the first novelist to include supernaturalism in his story. There have obviously been stories with supernatural events many centuries previous to Walpole, but he introduces it in novel form, since the novel did not exist prior to the seventeenth century. Louisa A. Merival claims that Walpole “worked out his own conceptions in what... was doubtless one of the most important initiatory steps in that renaissance movement which has to so great an extent given the law to our modern aesthetics” (472). Merival is acknowledging Walpole's influence on Victorian aesthetics and literature. Making the Gothic novel a genre of its own allowed for writers, post Walpole, to explore supernatural events in a new and extremely popular form. While Gothic literature is considered simply that which includes the supernatural, many elements from Gothic architecture are found within these stories.
Gothic architecture is defined in complex terms. While the popular conception of it as a large building with pointed arches is correct, there is much more to it. John Ruskin delves into this complex description in his book, The Nature of Gothic. He says that Gothic architecture is a union of some of many elements and forms (2). To explain more fully, he says, “Gothic architecture has external forms, and internal elements. Its elements are certain mental tendencies of the builders, visibly expressed in it; as fancifulness, love of variety, love of richness, and such others” (3). He explains that there is a difference between the elements and the forms. The elements, as stated above, are mental and emotional aspects such as rigidity, redundancy, and a disturbed imagination (5). Whereas the external forms are the physical aspects of the building itself, such as pointed arches and vaulted roofs (3). Three other elements that can be added to Ruskin's list are vastness, mystery and an interest in the ancient past (Hope 123). Many of the elements are found directly in Gothic literature, specifically redundancy and disturbed imagination. For example, Walpole uses his character Manfred to express a disturbed imagination, and the story itself, along with Dracula, suggests that the narrator or author also has a disturbed imagination. Also, Stoker uses repetition in his story to create a redundant quality. Another important quality of Gothic architecture is its ecclesiastical property.
Gothic architecture has rarely been used for practical structures such a house. According to the general consensus of the Victorian era, as posed by George Gilbert Scott, “Gothic architecture is essentially an ecclesiastical style , and that though eminently suited to churches, it is not fitted for other classes of buildings” (347). Basically, the home and the church are separate entities physically (Parker 157). This separation through the physical qualities of the architecture of a building emphasizes the difference between life in the church and life in the home. While life in the home is focused on the family and day to day chores, the church can be considered as a tool to allow communication with the divine. The idea of communing with the divine implies an aspect of the supernatural, creating the perfect type of building for supernatural occurrences. In addition, the church has always been an important facet of English culture. Walpole and Stoker include the church within their stories. Both include the church as an entity of each respective castle, not only because this would have been the norm, but also because it ties in this aspect of Gothic architecture.
The elements of Gothic architecture were used as an inspiration for Walpole. In his love for medieval art, he created a novel to emphasize this. It is important to understand the setting in which Walpole places the story in his “Preface to the First Edition.” He sets the story in the Middle ages, at an uncertain time; he says it “must have been [written] between 1095... and 1243” (17). He also supposes that this was of “the purest Italian” (17). This is important to note because it explains the barbarism that is found in Manfred. Gothic architecture was brought about after the fall of Rome. It was generally considered to be of the barbaric North, meaning the areas that are now known as England and Germany (Moore 1). Claiming that his story was originally written in a Southern country that glorifies classical architecture, which does not include Gothic, allows Walpole to add elements of savageness (Ruskin 4) and mystery by introducing a vague resemblance of the foreign other; this idea is again explored with the unknown identity of the peasant later in the story. In addition to alluding to the origins of Gothic architecture, Walpole's castle within the story has many forms and elements of Gothic architecture itself.
Walpole never actual states in The Castle of Otranto that the castle is Gothic in structure, he simply alludes to it. The story lacks an overall physical description of the castle; it is only referred to by characters. Aspects of it are vaguely explained or simply mentioned as needed. Walpole references “vaults” throughout the novel (35, 38), which is a term used to describe a room that is vaulted, a physical form of Gothic architecture (Ruskin 3). The only other way in which the castle is described as having the physical forms of Gothic architecture is found in describing the passage to the church. Walpole describes it though his character Isabella, “The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters” (35). This description, along with the fact that it leads to a chapel, is suggestive of a typical crypt that is found beneath many Gothic cathedrals. The hollowness of the basement regions of the castle are only typical of an ecclesiastical structure, they would not have been found in an average house. Although the physical descriptions of the castle are minimal, there are other descriptions that show the elements of Gothic architecture.
Also found in the description of the secret passageway to the chapel are many elements of Gothic architecture. First, savageness is suggested followed closely by mystery; the description continues from above, “An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except, now and then, some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed; and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoes through that long labyrinth of darkness” (35). Walpole's use of descriptive words is really what suggests savageness. He uses “awful,” “blasts,” and “grating” which are all unpleasant terms in general. The awfulness of the silence could also be describing the mystery of the underground passage, along with the “labyrinth of darkness.” A labyrinth in itself suggests a great amount of mystery as it is, after all, a maze; but adding that it is completely dark makes it even more mysterious. Another way in which Walpole shows the savageness of the castle is in the imprisonment of the peasant. After the first supernatural event, the peasant is declared a “necromancer” by Manfred, and ordered to be imprisoned under the giant helmet (31). Although the peasant is not a prisoner in the actual castle, the only way in which he can escape from under the giant helmet casque was to enter the underground part of the castle that had been broken open by the fall of the helmet (39). Then, as there is no other way out, is he prisoner of the castle. The savage aspect is shown through Manfred, lord of the castle, who is himself a savage person, and uses the castle as means to continue to act this way. Similarly, Stoker focuses more on the elements of Gothic structures rather than the physical forms.
While Stoker focuses on some of the key elements of Gothic architecture laid out by Ruskin, such as redundancy, he adds more elements to the list as laid out by J.T. Parker, “No style is so remarkable as the Gothic for the multiplicity of its details and parts, and for the variety of its characteristic feature. Vastness, infinity, mystery, richness, lightness, solidity, gloom, intricacy, irregularity... are all characteristics of the Gothic” (123). Stoker mainly focuses on the mystery and vastness of this list. Stoker describes Dracula's castle through his character Jonathan. Upon his first arrival at castle Dracula, Jonathan is stunned by the greatness of such a place. He describes it as a, “vast and ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky” (20). The unlit windows create a sense of mystery to the castle that will be repeated throughout Jonathan's descriptions of it. He cannot see into the castle, and once he is in the castle, he has no way out. Another way in which Stoker creates this sense of mystery is through the layout of the castle, which is very hard to follow without an architectural layout of some sort. As Jonathan explores the castle he comes upon rooms that are unfamiliar to him, and the exact location of these rooms within the castle is somewhat hazy. He writes, “I was now in a wing of the castle further to the right than the rooms I knew and a storey lower down” to describe the vague location of this room. The room itself provides mystery as well, since it is one of the very few rooms that is not locked, and is described as being completely different from the rest of the castle, as more “comfortable” (40). These various descriptions from Jonathan show his ignorance of the castle Dracula, and therefore the mysteriousness of it. This repetition of the idea of mystery gives the redundant quality that is another element of the Gothic.
The idea of vastness presented by Jonathan's descriptions of the castle Dracula adds to the redundancy found within the other elements of Gothic architecture. Before Jonathan has even entered the castle, he notices the grandiosity of it, “In the gloom the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is” (21). Jonathan describes the castle as giving the impression of being vast, whether it is or not. However, this quote also presents a problem; the arches of the castle are round, not pointed. This would seem to completely discredit that Dracula's castle could be considered Gothic. In the architectural sense, this may be true; but since all the elements of the Gothic are there, it seems as if Stoker is simply trying to give the impression of the Gothic rather than explicitly stating that it is Gothic. The vastness and greatness of the castle are repeated in Jonathan's descriptions of his room; he uses terms such as “great passage,” or “mighty hearth” that emphasize this idea (22). Along with the great size of everything in the castle, Jonathan also feels the savage quality of the owner of the castle and of the castle itself.
The savage quality of Ruskin's list implies a sort of antiquity when explained in the context of the derivation of the term “Gothic” (Ruskin 16). This aligns with an appreciation for past generations that was commonly felt during the Victorian era (Merival 467). Stoker reflects this sense of antiquity through Dracula's castle. Jonathan describes things within the castle as “centuries old” (25). He also gives an initial image of the castle as old by describing the door as “old and studded with large iron nails, and set in a projecting doorway of massive stone. I could see even in the dim light that the stone was massively carved, but that the carving had been much worn by time and weather” (22). This idea of antiquity is also repeated throughout the story. Stoker makes this an important aspect of Dracula because it sets him apart from the rest of the characters. Dracula's castle does not fit with the science of the time (Hope 113). This idea sets the castle apart from the rest of society as well, making it unfamiliar territory to Jonathan. Stoker also presents the idea of being trapped within a specific structure, through the use of Jonathan. He realizes, as he as exploring the castle, that he is trapped, “In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner” (32). The significance of this passage is that Jonathan expresses his fear of being trapped in an unfamiliar, and possibly dangerous place. He realizes that the impenetrable castle walls are not there to keep anything out, but to keep him in. These strong castle walls also emphasize the ecclesiastical quality found within the castle and, again, Dracula himself.
The architecture within the book also has an ecclesiastical quality to it, or there is, at the very least, an emphasis on ecclesiastical architecture through Dracula. The passageway from Dracula's room leads directly to the chapel of the land. That is where Dracula really rests; where he sleeps in his coffin as the dead (Stoker 53). His castle and his chapel are one in the same. The ecclesiastical element presented by Gothic architecture is actually necessary to the plot. Another specific example of this is that Renfield, who is essentially possessed by Dracula, is drawn to the chapel, not the house, at Carfax. Dr. Seward describes it, “On the far side of the house I found him pressed close against the old iron bound oak door of the chapel” (97). It is significant that Dracula does not use the house, but instead uses the chapel as means to communicate with Renfield. This suggests that Dracula is very tied to the ecclesiastical element of the Gothic. Stoker follows Walpole's lead of having a chapel on the grounds of the scene where supernatural events are taking place.
Although written a century apart, Stoker's and Walpole's novels are strikingly similar in the way that they each use the ideas presented by Gothic architecture in their stories. They both emphasize specific elements of the architectural Gothic; they use limited physical description which puts the focus on these elements. Each uses the ecclesiastical element, mystery, and savageness in basically the same way. For the ecclesiastical, churches are used as almost a side note just to show that the divine and the supernatural are near. The mystery is presented through the limited physical descriptions and through repetition and vastness. Savageness is shown both by the rulers of each respective castle, and carried out by means of the physical structure as well. While there are these many similarities, the transformation of the Gothic novel throughout the century which separates these novels can be found in architectural minutiae.
While the novels share many of the same qualities and elements of the architectural Gothic, Stoker purposefully puts a stronger emphasis on these details. He uses repetition much more than Walpole, and therefore creates more redundancy. For example, Walpole only describes his castle as having vaults, which gives the idea of vastness. Stoker, on the other hand, describes his castle as possibly seeming larger than it really is, and repeats many ideas of large or great things within the castle to give the idea of vastness. Louisa A. Merival wrote in the Victorian era about the idea of the Gothic. She concluded that in eighteenth century literature, “it cannot fail to be perceived, a certain tone derived from the traditions of classical literature... often a direct imitation of their style and method,” which she described as “stilted and unreal” (465). In terms of Walpole, this would suggest that he was rather uncreative whereas in the nineteenth century creativity was inspired. She explains the Victorian period as “an ever wakeful sympathy with the past of history and society, a feeling sometimes reverential, sometimes regretful, sometimes compassionate, always keen and sensitive” (467). This description suggests that the artists of the nineteenth century had evolved to have more curiosity for the past rather than just copying it. Stoker embodies this idea by using many more terms in a much more intricate way to describe the vastness of his castle than Walpole does. Stoker does much of the same thing for the idea of mystery.
Stoker uses repetition of the mysterious to create a sense of redundancy. The setting of the castle, the layout of the castle, and the mysterious things within it are all ways in which Stoker expresses this idea. Walpole expresses mystery in many ways as well, but is less direct about it. Take, for example, the setting of each of the castles; Walpole's is first described by him, in the preface, as being in the medieval time in Italy, but the characters are familiar with the castle; Stoker's castle is set in a land foreign to the main characters of the novel. While to the reader, Walpole's may be more unfamiliar, his characters never express a sense of mysteriousness about the castle itself. Stoker's character Jonathan, however, expresses a great amount of ignorance and mysteriousness of the castle Dracula. In Walpole's novel, there is the secret passageway that creates some mystery about the castle. Scarborough says this type of structure is found in the Gothic, “its secret passageways, its underground vaults and dungeons, its trap doors, its mouldy spectral chapel, form a fit setting for the unearthly visitants that haunt it” (9). While the secret passageway may have been a source of mystery for the novel, the fact that Walpole's characters are aware that it is there makes it much less mysterious (Walpole 37). Stoker's character Jonathan, on the other hand, is generally unaware of where doorways will lead him within the castle Dracula (Stoker 40). Stoker is therefore more consistent in his creation of the mysterious than Walpole.
As previously stated, Stoker's use of Gothic architecture is limited to the elements, whereas Walpole presents what seems to be an actual Gothic structure. The vaults and secret passageways were more important in Walpole's work because the Gothic novel was not yet a genre, and he had to abide by societal norms of what Gothic was. Stoker was able to focus completely on the elements because they had mostly been presented previous to his writing Dracula. Stoker refined the elements of Gothic architecture to add substance to the Gothic novel instead of leaving it as empty and meaningless as Walpole's work. Walpole created a story within the context of the Medieval world in which supernatural things occur. He simply copied the antiquity. Stoker, on the other hand, created a story that explored the contrasts of the antique world with the modern world when they are brought together. The Victorian idea of the Gothic, in architecture and in literature, does not differ much from the idea of the Gothic in Walpole's time; it does, however, refine the ideas that were already presented and add more mystery.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Islam and everything

I am currently reading Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" which is about a "good Muslim woman" living in the UK, who is originally from Bangladesh. It is really interesting to see the contrasts of the "Western" and "Eastern" worlds as Ali presents it. I am only about halfway through the book, but I became curious of women's rights within Islam. Obviously there are different sects as with every religion, but I wanted to get a better understanding of the book.
Although it is never specified, the characters in the book are most likely Sunni, since that is the predominant sect of Islam within Bangladesh. Sunni Islam tends to give more rights to women than we in the West think. I read a lot about Islam and the treatment of women... it seems that after the 9/11 attacks, with all the focus on Islam, the West became obsessed with women's rights in Islam.
I think that this was such an issue because we were only presented with the extremists. The Taliban is actually incredibly strict on women's rights; for example, they cannot be educated after age 8. Well, as we all know, this isn't the case for most Muslims. I have Muslim classmates that are women, and I tutor high school girls that are Muslim as well... and they are much older than 8 years old..
I will admit that I have my own qualms with women's rights in Islam, but they are really not different from my qualms with women's rights within Christianity, or the world in general.
What so many people forget is that very often, views on women come from past cultures.
I'm not sure that I like how Monica Ali portrays women in Islam in her book. While much of it is true, and extremely based on culture, I think that much of it can be taken (with ignorance) as saying that Islam is too strict on women.
In her character's case, it is too strict. She thinks that her husband is good just because he doesn't beat her, regardless of if he is a good person. It is just frustrating.
I get frustrated of being misrepresented as a Christian, so I can imagine that someone might be angry about being misrepresented as a Muslim.
With all the strict rules, you would think that they breed the perfect children. The girls cover themselves, a man and a woman can not touch if they are not related (or married)... but I have been around these children. Teenagers are still teenagers.
We are all the same. Human Beings. That is all.

Why do we create these barriers between ourselves based on different religions or political views? Why does it matter what color a person is? It would be boring if we were all the same.
I mean, in all reality, I understand why there are wars, and why we don't get along... Disagreement. Power. Greed.
I just don't like it.

Ok. So this isn't really about Islam. It is more of just a rant about how frustrated I get with people. I have just had a bombardment of being challenged with these types of situations these past few months, and it is hard not to fall into despair.
I have the most amazing professor this semester for my Literacy and Cultural Diversity course. His class is literally life changing... In fact, I was just talking to someone randomly on campus about his class, and her best friend had taken it, and then moved to Africa after she graduated to deal with hunger and education issues there. Amazing! He really inspires people to make a difference. I want to be like that, but I don't know how to get over the completely atrocious and hopeless situations of the world. Sometimes all I can do is cry. I cry because my neighbors baby is screaming and crying and all they do is yell. I cry because my friend will be sent to Afghanistan in January, and he will miss out on the first year of his child's life. I cry for the people who don't have enough money to eat dinner tonight... but what can I do? How can I help one person when I can't even help myself?
Some of these teenagers that I tutor have it more together than I do. Amongst the slackers and the one who drop out are the ones who show up everyday. They come to class, do their homework, and go to their jobs after school so they can help out with rent. They may not have many friends, but they don't complain. They think they are so lucky, so absolutely blessed to be in the United States and attending a real school. And some of them really are blessed. Some of them actually came from refugee camps! Some of these 16 to 20 year olds have seen death. Really seen it, up close and personal. They carry these heavy weights around on their shoulders, and they don't talk about it.
Then there is middle class America. We see doctors and psychologists on a regular basis. I shouldn't feel guilty about that, should I? I just can't help it. I feel like depression and anxiety, both of which I deal with, are just a middle class disease. That is, depression and/or anxiety that are there for no apparent reason. Post traumatic stress disorder, and people recovering from addictions and such are a different story... they have reasons.... I don't.
I question quite often whether or not I actually have a problem, and then I remember two Christmases ago. This is an embarrassing time of my life that I don't talk about. I had frequent and severe panic attacks. I didn't sleep. Needless to say, I had issues. But I still don't know what caused it.
As this rant turns more to the depressing complaints of a twenty something college student, I can't help feeling completely insignificant. I just want to devote my life to a better cause, and I don't know what I am waiting for.
Graduation? Maybe.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Random thought...

I commented to a friend recently that I was excited to be done with school so I could really read. That is, I could read what I want. I didn't specify that last part, and just now realized that I have read a TON of books this past semester. I read: Sense and Sensibility, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dracula, Ziska, Carmilla, Hard Times, To the Lighthouse, Brick Lane, A Lesson Before Dying, Life Is So Good, a Collection of Ghost Stories, and a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories... I think I may be missing one or two...WOW. That is 10 novels and 2 collections of short stories. And that is not including Poetry... I read everything from Wordsworth to Heaney...(just British ones...)Oh, and all the Philosophical essays... Hume and Plantinga, and oh so many others, and then there is the Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose that I translated, everything from about 300-1000AD. But to be honest, that is really not that much, because the entirety of England was completely illiterate between 400-600...? I think. Better brush up on that. Anyway, I have accomplished a lot this semester, and I cannot believe that it is almost over, and that I made it through!!!!
Take that 18 credits!

Boring Friday night after...

I had a fun/stressful day. Although it seems completely contradictory, this is how my days at the high school tend to be. Fun because instead of classes we got to watch some people from the raptor center come in and talk about the birds. They brought in three, two different types of falcons, and one hawk. One of the guys that works at the raptor center also volunteers at the high school, and had managed to set this up for free!!! for the school. It was really interesting and informative...and, to most of the teachers surprise, most of the students got really into it and were mostly quiet! They even asked a lot of questions, which is a hard thing to do when you barely speak English... Of course, toward the end, the minority of the students that were being loud finally took over, and it was a mess trying to get them all to quiet down, because the noise scared the birds, then the birds scared some of the students who in turn made more noise and scared the birds more! It became a never ending cycle, so we ended it a bit early due to bird poop everywhere (that apparently happens frequently when they are scared.
After that we had a "fun" recycling project/game thing in the gym. I'm not exactly sure what it was all about, and I don't think that the majority of the students knew either. It turned into free time for all of them because most of the teachers decided to take a break at the same time. There were two volunteers (including myself), three teachers, and the principal to the hundred students crammed in the gym. We definitely lost that battle.
After that, I joined in a "talking to" with the teacher that I help out with, and a student that was being very disrespectful. I learned that she got kicked out of her old high school for starting a fight with another girl. It has been recommended that she see a counselor for anger management.... However, the reason that she started this fight was because the other student called her a terrorist day after day, and she finally couldn't deal with hearing it anymore. Who is the victim here? She obviously didn't deal with the situation in the most civil way, but then again, the civil way doesn't get the point across either. I am not saying that she was in the right, but I can definitely understand getting angry for that.

Well, now I am just sitting here and reflecting on my day. Thinking about what I want to do with my life. I almost feel the calling to teach, but am held back because I don't think that I would be able to deal with things like this day after day. I am so exhausted after just four hours, let alone a full school day. I really have a new level of respect for teachers. I already respected them a lot, but now... just to have that many kids to feel responsible for....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trials and tribulations of the day.

I love snow. Ask any of my friends or family. I absolutely L.O.V.E. it! But today, I realized why some people don't...

This morning I woke up happy as can be expected at 8AM. Took a nice hot shower, got ready nice and early because I was expecting the roads to be bad, and I had a little bit of homework to finish up before my 10AM class. Heck, I even found a pair of clean socks (which is a hard task at my house)! I got all bundled up, broke out the actual winter jacket. I was prepared for the day. Hat, check. Mittens, check. Boots, check. Time to go!
As I step outside into the cold, I take a moment to appreciate how beautiful things are in the fresh powdery snow. And then... frumph! thigh deep in a snow bank! It was so windy last night, and the wind blew all the snow right into the front yard of my apartment. The stairs to get down to the street were no where to be seen! So I took a guess as to where to step, and guessed wrong. Turns out I wasn't as prepared for the weather as I had hoped, didn't know I would need a pair of snowshoes to get to the bus!
I shoved my way out of the bank, brushed myself off, and mentally prepared for the longest walk ever to the bus stop. The sidewalks had been shoveled, and even in a few spots it still looked like they had been! But the rest... a giant snow bank. The street wasn't plowed, and the cars were sliding dangerously all over it, so I chose the piled up sidewalk.
As I stumble up to the bus stop, I realize that the main road hasn't been plowed either. Oh gosh, this is gonna be fun, I think I'll be lucky if the bus actually comes on time.
Turns out I was lucky! Four buses showed up at the same time about a minute after I got there. I had my pick... and I chose wrong.
Have you ever been on the 16 in Minneapolis? The drivers are already super crazy! Now add a foot of drifted snow to the road, and its a recipe for disaster!
Well, today I had an even extra crazy driver. She was flippin insane! She would slam on the brakes for each stop, and throw open the door while the bus was still sliding and yell, "what you waitin for?! Get off!" She was angry. And spreading the anger.
Since I was distracted by the seemingly likely possibility of loosing my life, I didn't realize that I had forgotten to grab my book and homework for my first class until I was almost to school!

Sh**(long line of profanities...)

So I call Jonathan, and remember as I am listening to his voice mail that he is working on audio, and therefore has headphones on and won't be able to hear his phone.

SH** (another long line of profanities)

Just as I am thinking this, he calls me back. He picks me up on the side of the road with my book, and gives me a ride back to school :)

Just as I am walking to class, It dawns on me that I should have checked to make sure it wasn't canceled... Thank God it wasn't! That would have really made my day!

So, all in all, not really a bad way to start the morning, since everything worked out. But I understand why people don't like winter now... It can be hard, and dangerous. But I still love it! And now I am more excited than ever to go snowboarding!!!
Just hoping the rest of my day works out a little bit better than this ;)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I know I already blogged today...

This is part of my final project for my Literacy and Cultural Diversity course. Don't let it scare you!! Its not really an essay, more of just a journal of my experiences at this school. If the first part bores you, skip down to part 3 or 4... I only posted the interesting sections, the rest deal with specifics that have only been dealt with in the class...

Part II MNIC—How it Works
The MNIC is an organization that is set up for students who do not function at their highest potential at traditional schools. The MNIC location that I have been working at is the South High School, which focuses mainly on ESL students. When I started at MNIC, it was set up in the traditional classroom style, but the teaching style is somewhat varied. However, there was a major change in the program very recently. Now the students are working in more selective circles. The reason that this change was made was to give students the opportunity to learn about things that they are very interested in, to allow more students to work while attending school, and to allow for a specified internship possibility. The students and teachers deal with a language barrier and funding issues everyday, but they somehow work through this to allow for learning to take place.
The actual architecture of the school is not much different than a traditional school other than the size. It is a rather small building. There are classrooms, a lunch room, a gymnasium, and a library, just as in most other schools. The library is more adapted to fit the students though. There are multicultural books and pictures surrounding the room. There are plenty of tables where studying and tutoring takes place almost constantly. And there is even information available on getting a green card.
Most of the students work in addition to attending school. The program is very lenient in allowing students to have jobs and still attend. The learning circles make this process easier; however, there are still many students that drop out because work is more important than learning. It is a constant struggle to keep students enrolled in this high school, and work is one of the main reasons. It is important to remember that these students are just kids. They are taking on more responsibility that many white students of the same age. Poverty strongly affects them. It is more important to have a roof over their head and a meal every day than it is to attend school. The internship aspect of MNIC is supposed to counteract this.
Giving the students at MNIC an opportunity to work in an internship is one large incentive to attend. Many of the students are very driven, and understand that an education is necessary for them to do what they want in life. MNIC provides an opportunity for these students who seek to excel. However, there is a constant struggle to allow these students to learn when there are students who are not so excited to learn.
One of most predominant problems that the teachers face every day is keeping the attention of all students in their classroom. This has seemed to be a large issue for students driven to succeed as well. They have a hard time focusing and learning English when their peers speak in different languages louder than the teacher. This is not to say that the students who disrupt the classrooms are not driven to learn, but they, for many reasons, are struggling to learn and ignore the problem. The fact is, that even though many students speak English proficiently, there is an enormous language and cultural barrier between the teachers or tutors and the students.
Even with all of these problems, and a lower than ideal graduation rate, MNIC is an important facet in this community. It gives many students the opportunity to excel when they may not have at a traditional school. The program allows for a community of learning to be built within it, between teachers and students. In allowing the students to have jobs, MNIC is allowing more people to attend school that would not even be able to attend a traditional school. Even if every student at MNIC does not graduate, some do. Some go on to college. Some go on to get great jobs. And most importantly, all go on knowing more than they did when they started.

Part III The Struggle to Learn
One of the first days that I was volunteering at MNIC a class that I was helping out with was studying ancient China. Many of the students talked about other things when they were supposed to be working on an assignment. Some even said out loud that they did not care about this subject. Why did they have to learn about something that happened so long ago in a different country in which none of them have lived or ever plan to live? How was this going to help them become a citizen of the United States? Why was this pertinent to their graduation? As some of these questions were brought up, I realized that I did not have an answer, so I waited for the teacher.
Most importantly, he said, is that this information will be on the GRAD test. It may not be this specific information, but a knowledge of history was necessary for graduation. For some students this was sufficient. Some did not need to question why in order to understand. But I did. Why do we teach such ancient topics? What can be taken away from this class? Other students wanted to know.
The world may be made up of many different countries, many different nationalities, languages, governments, but we are all people. We are all humans. We can learn from different cultures and societies, but we need to know their history. We need to know how the world came to be how it is today. The teacher explained that through learning history, we can know what works and what does not work. He used government as an example. He asked who would want to live in a Monarchy, or in a society where the ruler's son became ruler no matter what he was like. Many of us began to understand, and his answers sufficed for the time being.
This is just one example of a common occurrence at MNIC. The students very often are not interested in what they are learning. They really have no solid incentive to learn it, other than for the GRAD test. But, as we have talked about in class, this type of learning is not very helpful in the long run. It is not really learning. This is not a problem that is unique to MNIC. There are many high school students in many communities that feel exactly the same way. In fact, there are even college students that learn this way. So how do we change it? How do we change the learning process of students who have grown up in a completely different culture, when we can hardly change the students of our own communities?
In another class that I help with, the teacher addresses this exact problem almost daily. He constantly asks the class why they are there. He says that if they don't want to learn, they should not be there. They can just spend the day working instead of coming in to school. I have yet to hear a student answer these questions. It is usually enough to shut them up and make them pay attention. This teacher openly expresses the view that if you don't want to learn you can still find jobs. They may not be as high paying, but hey, he's a low payed teacher—he doesn't make much either. He says that learning is about wanting to absorb more information. He has even inspired some students to join the newspaper even though they are completely busy with things outside of school as well as within.
It seems like, as with all teenagers, these students need to be checked frequently. They need to be reminded why they are there. They need to be challenged in relevant ways. The teachers at MNIC generally do a good job of this. After all, learning is not just a necessity to them, it is a way of life.

Part IV My Experience
I was a bit nervous to start at MNIC. In the orientation, the volunteer coordinator Amy advised me not to try to shake hands with the male students. This was because the majority of the students are strict Muslim and can not touch a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member. This little difference made me realize that I don't have that much experience with really devout people of a religion other than Christianity. I grew up attending a Christian private school until a enrolled in college. I was immersed in the society of white Christians. I was taught to not accept other religions. My views on this have changed extremely since I graduated high school, but the fact remains that this was how I was brought up.
I only know generic facts about Islam, and minimal at best. The fact that many of the students had grown up in a country where Islam is a national religion, or it is at least very connected with their culture sets them apart from me. In class we talked about this mentality and how detrimental it can be. There should be no “them” and no “us,” but we are different. This was a hard thing for me to get used to, even though I am not a devout Christian.
Well, it turns out that the students at MNIC are a very accepting and open community. They quelled my fears of being an outsider within the first day. Everybody greeted me. The students in my classes seemed genuinely interested in where I was coming from, and enjoyed sharing with me where they had come from. They seemed to easily accept that we may have different backgrounds, but we are not really that different, and we can learn things from one another. Now it is fun for me to talk about the differences between our two countries and cultures with the students. Just before Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with a few girls about traditional foods from their country. They had actually brought it up in saying that they hated turkey; they much prefer camel. And I learned a bit more than I wanted to about what parts of the camel are used for what.
Another thing that I was apprehensive about was that I would be a minority. I did not know how the students would view me. As I said though, they were very friendly. However, it seemed sad to me that they so often would just turn to the first white person that they saw for help with homework. It seemed clear to them that if you were white, you were a teacher or a tutor. I have often had students, who are not in any of my classes, ask me questions as they pass me in the hall that I do not know the answer to, or cannot help them with. For example, the lunchroom, where the vending machines are, remains locked after lunch. More than once a student has asked me to open it for them, but I do not have the key, nor do any of the tutors. To explain myself more clearly, I need to use another specific example that may not seem very politically correct, but it just is how it is. Some of the tutors are black. Some are even from Somalia and speak one or more of the languages that the students speak. These tutors are not asked for help as frequently as the white students. It seems as if the first thing the students learned upon arriving the United States is that white people are superior.
Saying that the Somali and Ethiopian students think that white people are superior may be somewhat of an exaggeration. It is possible that they simply know that the majority of people in the United States are white, and therefore assume that any white person at MNIC is not there to learn, but rather teach. And similarly that if a person is black, they may be there to learn. This was something that bothered me the entire time that I was working at MNIC, but I was not sure how to address it. I was always nervous about sounding racist. We also talked a bit about white guilt in class. That is something that I experienced during my volunteer work, only it was more than that.
I felt guilty for growing up as a white, middle class citizen of the United States. I felt guilty for previously complaining about certain aspects of our government or society, when situations here are much better than what some of these students have experienced. Even though I never expressed this guilt or shame that I felt with any student at MNIC, I learned to just be thankful that I have had the opportunities that I have had, and thankful that these students also have an opportunity.

End of the semester..

I am at the point in this semester where I am just done. I have a week and a half left of classes, and then only one final in the week following, unfortunately on the 22 of Dec. Then I am taking fun classes next semester. I am just so ready to graduate. But I am trying not to get too ahead of myself. Before I can really think of being done, I have a HUGE paper to finish. Not huge as in the length, but huge in the sense that my grade depends on it. And I am actually quite frightened to start writing it. I have done the research, written an outline (albeit brief), and thought about it way too much. However, on tiny, little, seemingly insignificant word that i found in reviewing the Dracula quotes, has discredited my entire essay. The word is 'round.'
The reason that this little word is so significant is because I am writing about the Gothic architecture that is found within Gothic literature... if the building has round arches, it is not Gothic. The pointed arch is the most basic of the elements of Gothic architecture. I had to change my thesis, and look at other elements to make this paper work, since it is too late to start over.
I am hoping my teacher won't notice...

I think that I may actually mention this issue in the essay. I may possibly suggest that regardless of the type of architecture found within the Gothic literature, they must contain only some of the elements of Gothic architecture. Somehow though, this seems rather flimsy. But I think that it will be okay. I am just so frustrated with this project that I am finding it extremely hard to start. But I promised myself that I would at least finish a first draft of it by the end of today.

While I am working on this frustrating project, I also have way too much homework for my old English class. Although, translating the poetry is finally making some sense to me. It only took weeks! And now we are translating 100 to 150 lines a night, and that in itself is overwhelming.

My tutoring job at the high school is also extremely hard right now. The school recently changed the process of teaching. Instead of the traditional classroom style class, we are now doing learning circles. The students work independently on specific projects. This is supposed to be beneficial to the students. They have more time to work if necessary, they can work at their own pace, and they can focus more on things that they are interested in. It sounds like a good idea. However, starting this in the middle of the school year is really hard on them. Especially because the teachers were not expecting it either. Basically it is one huge frustrating mess for everyone.
Well, I am helping out with an experimental classroom. We are trying to find ways to make this work, so the students have not had a steady curriculum. There is only one teacher for a classroom of thirty. Sometimes, he gets one tutor to help him out. But even with two people, it is nearly impossible to explain to the thirty students what they are supposed to do when it changes everyday. Not to mention that they have a million questions anyway. Friday, when I was there was very frustrating for me and the students. It is hard on them, and therefore hard on me. Also, I think that I want to stay there even after my class is over. But I don't know if that would be a smart idea. I am doing my senior thesis next semester, and there will be a lot of reading involved, in short I will be extremely busy. I don't know if I would be able to handle it. It is something I will think about over break...

It seems like when one thing happens, everything happens. Especially when you are in college. The end of each semester is a culmination of everything that you have learned over the past few months, and that includes things that were not even learned in school. It is just the way that the college student thinks and lives, I think.
Well, anyway, this is my catharsis for being overstressed and overworked. I am looking forward to a break. I am even looking forward to work!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

After a long day...

I am exhausted! But, for the first time in a long time, I feel fulfilled. The last couple weeks have been hard with the pain that I was dealing with in my neck. It still hurts, but not nearly as bad. I find that now that I feel better, I am less angry, less stressed out, and more productive. Today, I wrote almost half of what I needed to for the end of the semester. I got so much done in just one day! And I have time to work on it tomorrow also! I made a schedule of sorts for myself; by Sunday night I have to be finished with rough draft versions of all of my papers. This will hopefully alleviate some of the normal "finals" stress. I am so thankful that I have finally felt like I can finish this semester. It has been so incredibly busy, but it has also gone by so very fast.
Oh, and I decided on a Christmas present for someone... well more like a family... that I am soooooooo excited about!!! I can't say anymore yet, but I am really looking forward to making someone's day :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

In a bit over my head

I woke up in a panic today.
I have two weeks left to write my two final papers.
Normally this wouldn't freak me out so much. Why is it now?

One of the papers is a personal, journal-type project about my experience volunteering at a ESL high school. I have learned so much there. But I feel like I have just begun. I can't put it into a paper form. The lessons that I have experienced there have no order. I can't make a project out of life.
In this journal-paper I am defining things like "literacy" and "racism" in new ways that pertain to reality. Not dictionary definitions. Real life experience. This wouldn't be so hard if I didn't feel the need to redefine every word that I am using in the rest of the assignment. I am realizing just how little the English language can do to describe life. I am not some great poet. I am not a novelist, or a journalist. I am just a girl. I don't know how to transfer this information that has been seeping into my brain and heart for the last few months to a computer screen.
My second paper that is due is what is really freaking me out though. I did what I always do when I am interested in a topic... I completely immerse myself in a wealth of information until I totally lose my original thought. I have pages upon pages of notes. I have spent hours in the annex, the very basement, of the library literally digging through old books, journals, and newspapers from over 100years ago. I have searched in online databases, using any and every keyword phrase that I can think of. What was my topic again?
Oh yes, the transformation of the Gothic novel in the aspect of Gothic architecture. Now, am I focusing on the society's view (at the time) of Gothic architecture, or the use of Gothic architecture (castles mainly) within Gothic Literature? Is it sufficient to only use two novels? No, but I only have 15 pages to work with here. Maybe I need to get even more specific... It could be a strait up comparison of Dracula and The Castle of Otranto. That is something that an undergrad can get away with, right?
What I seem to fail to realize is that that is what I am. An UNDERgrad. I am not going for my masters or doctorate. I guess it is hard for me to think that way when half my class (and it just so happens, the half that I talk to) are grad students. Their craziness rubs off on me.
I even have another class where I am mostly surrounded by grad students, and guess what? They just happen to be studying Victorian literature, which is the basis of my paper, and they like to ask me lots and lots of questions about it! It actually has been quite helpful to have them... I was the only undergrad in my class who knew where to look for specifically Victorian era criticisms and articles thanks to my grad friends.
But I just don't know what to do now.

It seems like my mind has just completely shut down and is refusing to do anymore work.

I think I am going to write about the architecture presented within the novels... and maybe tie in why the Gothic architecture is an important facet to the Gothic novel (besides the fact that they have the same name).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Random literature conversations that make me happy.

Yesterday, when I came home from my parents house, my boyfriend had a few friends over to play some boardgames. I felt a little awkward because Friday nights are usually their guys night, no wives or Kaits invited. (Jonathan and I are the only non-married couple) But it turned out to be interesting. One of the guys there has a PHD in history. I can't remember exactly which period of history he had focused on, but we talked a bit about the Restoration period in England, and also the Victorian era. The Restoration into the 18th century is possibly my favorite period of literature..ever. It was really exciting to be able to share my opinion on something that is so interesting to me with another person who found it interesting, who wasn't one of the two professors at my school who teach it.

The Restoration period refers to the time in England, immediately after the Commonwealth, where the monarchy was restored. Previously, King Charles had been beheaded and the monarchy was taken over by a Republican government. Then there were extremely convoluted political schemes that ended with Charles II restored to the throne. During this time, there were very important literary movements. Forms of journalism that still exist today were brought forth, but more interesting to me is:

The novel was born.

There is actually no set "first" novel. Many argue that it was Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko" (I think I spelled that right?) or Jonathan Swift's "Gullivers travels." There are also a few other contestants, but these are a couple of the main ones.

Even more interestingly is the formation of genres within the novel. Not too long after the start of the novel we get completely different forms of it. For example, there is Defoe's "Moll Flanders" which is written like a biography, or maybe even a travel journal, and then there is Francis Burney's "Evelina" which is a courtship novel, about a young girl's introduction into society.

But we can't forget about all the great comedies of the time either. These are some of my favorite works of literature because they can really capture the image of the Libertine man. Imagine a swave, misogynistic, unfortunately likable character. I maybe shouldn't say misogynistic... he would prefer a woman just like him, who didn't believe in marriage or courting... just sex. It really is a very interesting movement that was repeated in the seventies in America, in a slightly different form. It is all about following the laws of nature. Only their interpretation of what nature's laws are, are horribly skewed. I should make it clear that I don't agree with Libertine ideals as a whole, I just find them fascinating... Almost like a train wreck.
Some of those great comedies are "The man of Mode" aka "sir Fopling Flutter" by Etherege, and John Dryden's "Amphitryon." I think another reason that I love these comedies is because of the language used. I love the word "fop." It is a great way to describe people, but every time I use it, I get funny looks :(

Being able to have a conversation about all this with someone that I barely know really helped me remember why I am an English major. I love literature. I love language. I love history. I love the forms of literature and breaking them down into little analytical pieces. I didn't choose it so I could get a high paying job or make it to the top of a company. I chose it because it is what I enjoy. I may not use it in my future jobs, and most likely won't. But I enjoy it now, and that is what is important.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Falling Slowly

Glen Hansard has this beautiful song called 'Falling Slowly' on the soundtrack to the movie 'Once,' which was only an okay movie. The music is what makes it. Well, this song brings me to tears every time that I hear it. There is so much despair that you can hear in his voice, but there is hope in it as well. For an artist to truly demonstrate this emotional train wreck dichotomy in such a perfect way was unknown to me before this song. It is beautiful. I recommend listening to it with a box of tissues near by.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I am so thankful for my wonderful family. I don't get to spend enough time with them. My parents moved up north (i know... a minnesotaism..) a few years ago to their dream home. They have forty acres of land that consists mostly of woods, a cut little house--the perfect size for the two of them--and a little pond. They also have AMAZING gardens. Visiting them is like going to the farmers market. During the season they give us bags of fresh organic produce to bring home. This weekend, I get sauces!! They can a lot of their food as well. They also have a hot tub. Basically, they have everything that they want, and they are so incredibly thankful for it. My parent are these two, amazing, giving, and loving people! I have so much fun every time i visit. To explain how life is up here, I will just say what we did today. It is somewhat representative of what all holidays are like...
My sister and I drove up here after work yesterday afternoon. We got up here around four, and just had a relaxing evening. We had bloody marys, beer, and I even had some cider. We made dinner, I made a pie for tonight, and then we went in the hot tub. Very relaxing, and an early night.
This morning we got up around nine, and started preparing for the big meal. My parents are both awesome cooks, and all their food is so delicious! Then, we shot the guns. It's really not a Birk holiday without blowing up some rotten gourds or produce. Today was extra fun because we shot some pumpkins and gourds with the 243 riffle, which basically blows the shit out of them. :) We also got to shoot the 357 pistol, which is always fun. I finally told my mom the story that I often tell people to explain how she is...
Jonathan and I had been shooting the 357 and she came up wanting to shoot a couple. Well, she only needed one shot to hit the target... gansta style... Then she went back to doing her crafts. After showing up Jonathan and I. It was very funny, she is like an Annie Oakly who can do everything else too.
So, we shot. Then my aunt Lori and her husband and the two little ones came up. I love seeing them, ALL of them! I love my aunt, she is such an amazing and inspiring woman! Jerry is absolutely great for her, and the kids crack me up. I wish that I could help out more with them to give Lori and Jerry a break! They are just "too cute," to put it in Jordan's words :) Well, we had a great dinner, we all ate too much. Went for a walk, drank some wine, had a bonfire, watched a movie, and somehow we managed to eat more!!!
I just can't even express how amazing my family is to me! They are sooo awesome! Just wish that my boyfriend was here to enjoy as well (but I saved him a piece of pie!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You can't force religion

Attending a large university is just asking to meet all kinds of extravagant people. Everyday I meet someone who is trying to change my view. One minute someone is trying their damnedest to turn me into a Republican, and the next I am having a conversation with a Socialist who wants me to attend their meetings. It is the same with religion. I couldn't tell you how often I have been told that I am going to hell for not accepting the Word of God. The thing is, I AM a Christian. But these people assume that everyone here is a heathen.
There actually was a guy who called about twenty people a heathen, and told them that they would burn in hell, in the five minutes I took to observe him.

There was also a man who was wearing a sign, a quite large one, that had a list of the types of people who were going to hell. The few that I remember off that list are feminists, homosexuals, and potheads.

Then there are the pamphlet people. They FORCE pamphlets on you.

This morning I was walking to class with my hands in my jacket pockets when a guy tried to hand me a pamphlet. I didn't see what was on it, just kept walking. He walked right along side me with the pamphlet in my face until I took it.

I can understand being passionate about what you believe. In fact, I think it is necessary. But what I don't understand is the tactics that people use to convert the world to think exactly like them.

A I already said, I am a Christian. But most of the time, I don't feel like I believe in the same God as these people do.

There is only one extreme bible nut on this campus that I actually like. And he is completely, legitimately, insane. I call him crazy preacher guy. I know it sounds mean, but it is an endearment.
He stands outside for hours everyday, most of the time on a ladder (where does he get that ladder anyway?) reading the Bible along with his own writings. Most of it makes no sense.
For example, one day when I walked by, he was talking about shaving your head in the name of Christ, and then about Curt Cobain's corpse. I think he only does this to get attention.
But what I like about his is he is nice. He has never told anyone that they are going to hell, and he even openly accepts criticisms and arguments.
He also plays the guitar and sings.

I just don't get the hellfire and brimstone preachers. Every time I encounter one, I just want to say to them, "Do you REALLY think that threatening a twenty year old college student is going to make them believe in God?! It wouldn't make ANYONE believe in God, especially not a student at a politically and scientifically charged university where we don't even have time to think about our souls!" Threats don't work. I don't think that they ever will. They completely miss the point of believing in something. These people are missing the true meaning of Christianity.

I sound like I am ragging on Christians... there are many other groups of people that 'solicit' their beliefs on campus that are just as annoying. But this is very personal to me. These people are the reason that I get funny looks from my colleagues when I tell them that I am a Christian. And the reason that I am writing this now is because something very recently has happened that has made me very, very angry.

A group of Christians doctored Darwin's 'Origin of the Species,' (ie his book on evolution). They added their own introduction, and cut out much of the original text, messed with it to warp the meaning. For anyone else who is concerned, the reason that they were allowed to do this is because the book is public domain, no one owns Darwin's estate. They can legally mess with something that was published a hundred years ago to make people who are ignorant of the actual text believe that this is a legitimate copy of it. Now, I have read parts of Darwin's book, and he does not threaten Christianity. I get that the claim that the earth came about by evolution, and not God, can be used against Christianity, but it is not a direct threat. And there is no way that a group of people can convince anyone otherwise by changing their opponents statement.

While I do not have all the facts worked out, I don't think that evolution in itself is sufficient reason to not believe in God. Maybe we did evolve, but what did we evolve from, originally? Also, I just don't buy the big bang theory. Well, I am not going to get into an argument that can not be solved in this life, but just state that I am offended when people try to cheat their way into explaining something that can not be explained.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It has been almost a week this time. I cannot get rid of this headache. I have had neck pain, off and on, for years. I think it has been at least six. Although it has not been this bad for awhile. It starts out with sore shoulders and a sore neck. Then, as the pain becomes more acute, I start getting migraine symptoms. Lately, I have even been "seeing spots," or rather light spots that blur my vision for short periods at a time, a couple times a day. Light bothers me. Sound bothers me. I can't concentrate on anything, and I can barely think enough to form a damn sentence through the pain. I ice it. I do exercises for my back and my neck. I am becoming more aware of my posture, and trying to correct it. Nothing helps. I hurt and there is nothing that I can do. I have been to see a chiropractor many times throughout the years, and sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't. In the past year, it hasn't. I threw my back out pretty badly twice this past summer, went to the doctor for it, and was "diagnosed" with a hypermobile spine. I went to physical therapy, and leaned a bunch of exercises to do to help strengthen my back because hypermobility means that my ligaments are very loose and I need to rely on my muscles to hold everything in place back there. I will be completely honest, I have slacked off a bit on my exercises since school started, and I don't do them every day. Trust me, though, I am paying the consequence. My back muscles started spasming again yesterday. Sadly, I can almost deal with the lower back pain when my neck feels like it does. I am going to go to the doctor again. But there is probably nothing to do. I just want to make sure that the whole seeing spots thing isn't life threatening or something, because that has never happened before. But as far as just the pain goes, nothing. I can't take pain killers, they make me extremely depressed. My doctor actually had to put down vicadin as a drug allergy because when I took it, I laid on my couch and didn't talk to anyone for two whole days. I don't think I moved except to go to the bathroom. Frankly, I just don't have time for that, and it didn't even help the pain. I have also taken muscle relaxers and anti-spasm medications, but I don't feel like they will do much for my neck or SI joints. That is the part of my back that hurts this time. Not really my back, but where it connects to my pelvis... they are just inflamed, so ibuprophen and ice should help that. I really don't know what to do about my neck though. I honestly can not even think right now. My attention span is down to about three seconds before I think about how much pain I am in. I can't deal with this.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dog shit in the yard.

Anyone who has seen my apartment, or ever heard me complain about it, knows that it is tiny. And I mean TINY! It's a one bedroom that I share with my boyfriend, and all our stuff... which really seems to take precedence. My point it, it is hard enough to live in this tiny space with two people if you have any belongings at all.
Our upstairs neighbors, another couple whose apartment is the same size, have three dogs. This would seem hard enough, and annoying enough for all of us who have to listen to them running around in circles and barking because they only get to go outside once or twice a day for five minutes at a time. But then they had a baby.
Before I go on, I should mention that they argue ALL the time. They are two very unhappy people who occasionally scream FUCK at the top of their lungs at nine AM. Being below them, we can hear all these shout matches that occur almost daily. As I said, they are very unhappy people.
Well, now that they have a baby, I was hoping that they would quiet down a bit. They didn't. The poor baby is crying constantly (luckily we can usually only hear that from the hallway) and they are still shouting. They are loud, obnoxious, they don't clean up their dog poo in the yard, and they like to yell at us for being loud.

I have very mixed emotions about this family. On one hand, I can't stand them. They wake me up on my weekends, I have to listen to angry words and stomping, their dogs constantly yip, and they just all around piss me off. However, I can't help but pity them. They are so unhappy, and I know that when they yell at us, they are just misdirecting their bad emotions. But most of all, I feel bad for the baby. I don't think that they should have him or her. As I write this, the baby is crying.. right now. It never stops. I feel like something is horribly wrong, and really want a reason to call child services, but I have no proof other than my knowing these to be very mean people and a colicky baby. Maybe that is all that it is. But it breaks my heart to think of the life that this child is going to grow up in. And I don't know if there is anything that I can do but listen to him cry, and pray.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The house of love

I wrote this a few years ago after volunteering with my mom and some of her coworkers at a homeless shelter. I have been thinking about it recently, and want to do this again. The experience was great, and the men were so thankful.

A basement of a rundown church in Minneapolis is what forty men call home. The “house of love,” as one man puts it. There are four main rooms in this basement; the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and the bedroom. The kitchen resembles any given school kitchen, only slightly less clean. The cupboards are filled with mismatching plates, bowls, cups—mostly old coffee mugs, and bent up silverware. The dining room, if it can be called that, is a room filled with half broken tables and folding chairs. It is connected to the living room, which is filled with old torn up couches, more folding chairs, and one small television. Through a hole in the wall is the bedroom, one room shared by forty men. Small mattresses, similar to those found in college dorms, cover the floor. There are almost enough for everyone, but not quite. On the mattresses are variously colored blankets, and lumpy pillows, only half of which have cases. Not exactly the ideal place to live.
While forty men live there temporarily, about sixty men eat there nightly. The dinners come from volunteers that bring food, cook, and serve it to the men. Tonight, the dinner is beef stew, salad, bread, and cookies for desert. There are not enough bowls for every one, so some eat the stew out of a mug, and others on a plate. And some of those who have bowls are eating it with a fork. All of the food was served. Sixty hungry men do not leave leftovers.
While this is a homeless shelter for only men, the Simpson church also supports a women’s shelter at a different location, and helps families to pay for rent. One lady is responsible for the funding. She alone raises about one million dollars a year, and receives another one million from various government funds. With just two million dollars each year, this organization is expected to help hundreds of homeless people. Somehow, it works every year.
Daily volunteers help more than anyone would guess. The majority of the food eaten by these men is brought in by families, other church groups, friends, and anyone who wants to help. While dinner is served each night by the volunteers, lunch and breakfast are served on an individual basis. Volunteers bring in food at anytime that can be eaten later. Many of the men that live in the house of love work, and bring the said food with them to work.
One common misconception of the homeless is that they are lazy. That may be the case for some, but out of the men staying at the Simpson church forty-five percent are working poor.
One particular man falls into the category of the working poor. Six days a week, this man wakes up at four in the morning to take two different buses to a St. Paul steel company, where he works fifteen hour days. Then he comes home to the house of love to eat and sleep. There is no way that this man can be called lazy.
Another fifty percent have some sort of mental illness. Addictions and substance abuse correlates with the mental illnesses, but it can not be said which is a result of which. The mental illnesses of most of these men restrict them from having a job. How can they be blamed for not working if no one will hire them?
These poor men are completely alone. Most of them have no family, and those who do are not communicating with them. These men are so grateful to anyone willing to help. They have people giving them food everyday, and not one of them takes it for granted. They say please and thank you. The looks on their faces when given a warm, home-cooked meal says enough. It is not a burden to volunteer. In this one organization, there are so many ways to volunteer, that every person could find one way that would not interrupt their lives. Just donating a few dollars to a charity event, or giving and old blanket or pillow, or giving clothes that are not worn anymore, food, a game, whatever; any small thing helps.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why do "big" countries take over "little" countries and create lots of problems?

Today was one of the most depressing days that I have had. After my first class, which is depressing in itself, I went to my literacy and cultural diversity class. We just read this book by Earnest Gaines call "A Lesson Before Dying." A brief synopsis of it is a man in the south is arrested and sentenced to death. His cousin, who is really the main character, is a teacher and is supposed to "turn him into a man" before he is put to death. Well, we are spending a few weeks talking about issues that are raised in this book. Today we talked about race and the legal system. Starting on just a base level with cops in the community, I observed that in my community a white person does not really, ever, get pulled over or arrested. That is not to say that it never happens, obviously it does. But it is so much more likely for a Mexican or black person to get into trouble with the law. And to be honest, in my community it is almost all petty crimes. Let me pose a situation to better explain what I am angry about. If a white man is caught with under an ounce of marijuana, he will get a slap on the wrist and, at most, a citation. If a black man gets caught with the same thing, he gets thrown in jail for at least 24 hours. I am not making this up, and it is not entirely a hypothetical situation. I have known people in both. Also, did you know that to have possession of crack is seen as a worse crime, meaning it has a stronger punishment, than possession of cocaine? They are both narcotics, but one is the glamorous Hollywood drug, and one is the street drug. Then we got into the topic of Capital punishment. I don't remember the exact statistics on this, but out of the people that are on death row, the majority, by far, are black.
Right after this class I go to the high school where I tutor. I was a little late due to the intense conversation that we were having in my previous class, and when I walked in to the classroom the first thing I saw (on tv) was a small, starving child of the Sudan. We watched this horrific video about the lost boys of the Sudan that outlined their journey from all over the Sudan, to Ethiopia, then to Kenya, and then, but only for some, to the United States. I choked back tears as I watched video footage of small children with arms as skinny as my fingers taking care of even smaller children. 27,000 young boys started this on this journey, that was a flea for their lives, only 13,000 made it to Kenya.
For anyone who does not fully know the story of the lost boys, I encourage you to Wikipedia it. I can only give a brief outline. The Sudan was part of the British Empire. When they were finally encouraged by the rest of the world to grant freedom to this country, they managed to turn the North and the South against each other, and started a feud between the Christians and the Muslims. I believe it was the North who decided to kill all young men and boys in the South. Thus the journey to freedom of the Lost Boys.
After this class, I went to my British Literature class and learned about Ireland, which had a similar outcome. The North and South were separated and warred. However, this lasted much shorter than the war in the Sudan. So, I will not mention much about it here.
I just sometimes can't believe the horror of what happens in the world and what people are capable of, especially people in positions of power.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I applied for graduation today. Scared for the future.

Somalia is confusing

Since I was ill with the swine flu for so long, and missed quite a bit of my volunteer hours at the high school, I am doing a short research paper on Somalia. It is completely up to me what aspect of Somalia I write about. (oh, I am writing about Somalia because that is where most of the students that I am tutoring are from) Unfortunately I am almost completely ignorant of anything happening in East Africa. Here are the facts that I already knew: Somalia gained independence from Britain and Italy in 1960, they speak English in the North, Italian in the South, and Somali and Arabic everywhere, they currently have a president, the country is somewhat in turmoil or has been for the last 15 years at least, and they have pirates. That last little bit I am actually quite knowledgeable in. I find modern day pirates fascinating. They are not the romanticized pirates of the past, but simply criminals on boats who get away with many many crimes and make a lot of money doing it. I have just started reading more on the history of Somalia, and am trying to understand just exactly what has happened politically there over the last fifty years. It is extremely confusing, and I can't even begin to explain it except to say that Anarchy has been a huge problem. That can't be fun. Anarchy AND pirates?! But seriously, these people that I have been working with so closely for the last two months have been through some really scary things in their home country. They are blessed to be here, and I know some of them actually want to go back and try to put some order to their country. This is inspiring me to learn more about Somalia. These kids know so much about their history, and they have learned so much about our history as well. I would love to be able to share in that knowledge.