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.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Literary posts

Some of my posts, many, actually, will be literary criticisms and even the horrid assignments that I had to write but have interesting tidbits within them. Hopefully, my writings will become more casual in the criticisms so that they are actually interesting to read for normal people. However, I do have a post, right now that I would specifically appreciate feedback on. It doesn't have to be a great paper, just a five page comparative essay on Sense and Sensibility and Hard Times. I wrote it just today, while sitting on the couch and taking frequent breaks to run to the bathroom to be sick. So not a very fun day for me. If any one is interested, I would love feedback and suggestions on what would make it a better, or more coherent essay. I will be having people from that class edit it as well, but I enjoy having as many people as possible give me their opinions. So, I hope you enjoy, and if you have not read either of the books, it may not make much sense... and I would definitely recommend reading Hard Times, I laughed out loud in one chapter and almost cried in the next. Anyway, here is the essay:
The Importance of Sentiment
Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility and Charles Dickens' Hard Times have specific family sets within the story that add to the social commentary made throughout the story. Both stories hold an example of what a functioning family is and an example of a dysfunctional family as well. In Sense and Sensibility the good, or decent family is that of Mrs. Dashwood, and the examples of a bad family are found in that of the John Dashwoods. In Hard Times the families to compare are the Gradgrinds and the Jupes. Each author makes the families and the members within them complex enough that they do not all fit into these categories for the entirety of the story, however this is the way that they are meant to be viewed. Each author has made the dichotomy of reason and feeling one of the main themes in their respective novel, and they have each shown this theme through the use of the families interactions.
Jane Austin starts her story with a tedious description of the finances involved in the death of Mr. Dashwood. Through this situation, she is able to show the true character of Mr. John Dashwood and his wife. While John is just willing to be manipulated by his wife, she does not see the importance of family beyond her own child and husband. To her, money is much more important than helping the sisters, even if they are step-sisters, of her husband. Austin's point in starting the book this way is to stress the importance of inheritance, especially for a young woman at that time. Marriage, the start of a family, was often the only option for a woman to succeed in life. If she did not marry, she would likely have no where to go after her parents died. This is made clear through many of Austin's works, and in this specific one, it is shown in every mother's obsession with seeing their daughter married off. As neither Dashwood sister was married, they were forced to rely on the kindness of a family member, and when that failed, they turned to their meager inheritance.
Elinor and Marianne are very close with each other as well as their mother. The youngest sister in this family is often left out of the story, likely because she is too young to have any interesting drama in her life, so the focus is put on Elinor and Marianne. Their close relationship is shown mainly through their conversations with or about one another. For example, Marianne shows concern for her sister, “ 'Mama... I have an alarm on the subject of illness, which I cannot conceal from you. I am sure Edward Ferrars is not well'” (25). While Marianne here seems more concerned of Edward's well-being, she is actually worried about her sister. She is worried that if there is not some plausible reason for Edward to have waited so long to see Elinor, then she will be heart-broken. Although Marianne's concern for her sister stems mostly from her own sentimental nature that Elinor does not share, Marianne's feelings are sincere, and she truly does care about her sister's wellbeing.
Mrs. Dashwood, who is just as sentimental as Marianne, shows her daughters affection in much of the same way. She partakes in many conversations with Marianne about Elinor, and will also converse with Marianne about herself, as Elinor tends to stay out of the purely emotional conversations. However, Mrs. Dashwood also shows her love to her daughters through her concern to see them married. When Elinor becomes acquainted with Edward, her mother observes the fondness, “No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behavior to Elinor, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching” (10). This is an important assertion that Mrs. Dashwood makes because just previously she was not sure of his appeal. He is described as being not very attractive, and rather shy and quiet. This is not the type of romantic character that Mrs. Dashwood is prone to like, but she can set aside her own feelings and see that he is, in fact, a good match for Elinor. While one aspect of this quote is as simple as a mother at that time wanting her daughter to marry so that she can be provided for, I also think that Mrs. Dashwood really does care about the happiness of both her daughters.
While Elinor does not indulge in the passionate and frivolous natures that her mother and sister are prone to, she does express her love for her family in her own, reasonable, way. Elinor is the necessary character in the Dashwood family that keeps them out of social mayhem. Her care for her family is shown in the concern of safety, whether physically, mentally, or pertaining to reputation. Nearing the climax of the story, Elinor thinks that her relationship with Edward is doomed, but instad of falling into self pity, she cares only for her family, “Elinor had often wished for an opportunity of attempting to weaken her mother's dependence on the attachment of Edward and herself, that the shock might might be the less when the whole truth were revealed” (105). Having this type of character in this family provides a balance that is part of Austin's main point. The balance between reason and feeling is what allows a family to function and remain content.
Dickens mainly focuses on the example of how not to raise a family; he does this through the Gradgrinds. Mr. Gradgrind is obsessed with facts, truth, and logic. In his household there is no room for imagination. They were not even taught simple nursery rhymes, he says, “No little Gradgrind had ever known wonder on the subject” (7). This way of raising children turns out to be perfectly detrimental to Tom and Louisa, who are the children who really feel his wrath. Dicken's point in this particular family is to show that one cannot be raised on facts alone, that in reality it is necessary to balance these facts with emotion.
Mr. Gradgrind's way of raising children, is actually more like raising machines. He wanted his household, as well as his school to be run smoothly, “He intended every child in it to be a model—just as the young Gradginds were all models” (6). There was no room for individuality, and no room for love. The narrator explains the type of training that the young Gradgrinds had as starting from their very beginning. It seems as if the only reason Gradgrind procreated was to make little carbon copies of himself. The narrator even adds a wonderful metaphor that is explained through the children's studies of geology, “and the specimens were all arranged and labeled, and the bits of stone and ore looked as though they might have been broken from the parent substances by those tremendously hard instruments their own names” (8). This particular statement from the narrator seems to describe this family perfectly. They are all stone, hard and cold, and the children are simply broken off from the parent, the actual substance is exactly the same. This is what Gradgrind wanted for his family.
Even within the strict, emotionless walls of Stone Lodge, some attachments were made. Throughout the story Louisa feels a special bond with Tom. This is an extremely important aspect of Louisa because he is the only person that she feels anything even resembling sentiment toward until her break down. As siblings growing up, relatively close in age, they were likely to form a bond. Even at an early age, when their minds were filled with nothing but facts, Tom and Louisa share what minor emotions they do have while sitting together near the fire. Louisa feels the weight of a presumed responsibility over Tom because she is his older sister. She expresses this to him one evening when they are alone, “ 'as I get older, and nearer growing up, I often sit wondering here, and thin how unfortunate it is for me that I can't reconcile you to home better than I am able to do. I don't know what other girls know. I can't play to you, or sing to you. I can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind'” (38). This statement shows that Louisa knows that she is missing something, but she feels as if she does not even stand a chance of obtaining it. While this relationship between Tom and Louisa seems to be the only thing keeping Louisa human for much of the novel, he ends up using her completely because he is void of all sentiment as well.
This bombardment of facts is challenged by the character Sissy Jupe. While Dickens description of her family life is short, it has a large impact on the novel. Sissy's fondness to her father, and the close relationship that they shared is a direct contrast to the relationship that Gradgrind has with his children. While Gradgrind's children learn science on their own, Sissy reads fairy tales with her father. Her relationship with him is supposed to be seen as so close that she can immediately understand why he leaves her. She does not even hold resentment against him because she loves him so much. By the time that Sissy goes to live with the Gradgrinds, it is too late for her to have an influence on Louisa, but she does have a positive emotional influence on the youngest Gradgrind. Another great contrast made between Sissy's family and Louisa's is the marriage of each of their parents. Mr. Gradgrind chose Mrs. Gradgrind because she would be suitable. Sissy's father loved her mother. More of these comparisons are made shortly after Sissy's arrival at Stone Lodge in her secret conversations with Louisa, but all of them show the same thing—that love is needed in regard to the happiness of a family.
The Gradgrinds are reconciled in the last part of Dickens' story completely due to the break of Louisa. Dickens purports that a person simply can not live a life completely devoid of feeling. As Louisa lives out Dickens' idea, she is brought back to her father to confront him of all the trouble that he has caused in her life. Even Tom, who cruelly used many people, as well as his sister, feels grief in hurting her. The family is completely reconciled after emotion is brought into the equation. Even though all seems to be well, Dickens does not let Gradgrind's mistakes be completely forgotten. Sissy, who was raised with love, happily marries and has children whereas Louisa does not. Louisa still needs Sissy to live vicariously, because she is still not completely capable of expressing emotion.
Both authors, Dickens and Austin, use the relationships within a family, as well as contrasting two separate families, to show that there needs to be a balance between sentiment and reason. Both authors also reveal these relationships mainly through dialog.
Oh, and this last paragraph is not finished... I just couldn't think of a good concluding paragraph... Thanks

Houses of Melancholy

Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne are both American writers that use Gothic elements in many of their stories. Particularly, they create sentient objects within the story that participate in the theme of the story. The House of Seven Gables, by Hawthorne, and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” by Poe are stories where the authors used the houses as sentient objects to interact with the characters of the book. However, the way in which the houses are used within the stories are very different; this difference in the effects of the melancholy houses, and the relationship of the houses with the narrators of the stories, show the difference in Poe and Hawthorne as Gothic writers. There are many similarities in how Poe and Hawthorne use the houses in their stories. These similarities are important to show the connections to the Gothic genre, and serve as a basis to show the differences in their writing, and methods of using sentient objects.
The first description of the houses shows the immense melancholy of both houses, with subtle but important differences. Poe sets the House of Usher on a dreary countryside, most likely in Europe (Poe 2498), that is very secluded. In Poe's psychological or mesmeric fiction, he often “confines his protagonists to enclosed spaces or hostile environments,” (Shear 276). This is shown in many of his stories, such as “Ligeia,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,”(Shear 276) but is also prevalent in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The House of Usher is somewhat secluded. It is in the open country, but there are no other civilians to speak of living near the house. The narrator suggests that he traveled for a long time by himself, not seeing any other person, before arriving at the House. The House of Usher could also be seen as a hostile environment, after all, the inhabitants die within it's walls before it falls down, burying both sister and brother.
The narrator of the story tells us that he has “been passing alone... and at length found [him]self...within the view of the melancholy House of Usher,” (Poe 2498). He goes on to describe the complete pervading gloom that overcomes him by just the sight of the house, which mentally affects him. Although this feeling of doom has encompassed him, he can not reason why; he says, “The analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth,” (Poe 2498). The overwhelming power that the House of Usher has on the narrator upon his first viewing of it is just one of many examples of how Poe creates the setting of his stories to interact with the characters.
Similarly, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses the House of Seven Gables to give further insight to the characters in his romance, as well as the history of their ancestors. The narrator in The House of Seven Gables gives his own perception of the house, “The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes, that have passed within,” (Hawthorne 5). Both Hawthorne and Poe create sentient objects in their fiction to add Gothic elements to their story. However, in the case of The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables these sentient objects, that seemingly play the same role, have different effects on the characters of the stories.
The two houses are similar in that they are both places of severe melancholy, however the dreadful gloom that hangs around the House of Usher like a black cloud is visibly absent from the House of Seven Gables. There, the misery lies mostly within. The House was located in the middle of Pyncheon-street, in a New England colony. The physical appearance of the House of Seven Gables is a “rusty,” old, wooden mansion covered in mossy vegetation, with a large elm tree just outside the door (Hawthorne 6). It has the appearance of a house that was once important, but has lost that meaning in the many years past. The Seven Gables is described mainly as old, with the history of its inhabitants pervading the structure, giving it the gloomy atmosphere. The House of Usher is also described as old, but slightly more decrepit. Poe's narrator describes the scene, “I looked upon...the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees,” (Poe 2498). The House of Usher is the gloom, and the inhabitants are affected by the structure. Both carry the idea of futility within, but the House of Usher boldly exposes its melancholy to any passerby.
Both of the houses contain within characters of an almost morbid quality; suggesting death and decay, which is also permeated by the houses. Seven Gables has pathetic old Hepzibah with her scowling face and “gusty sighs,” (Hawthorne 30) and dear Clifford, who, according to Neill Matheson, “has regressed to a time before a trauma or loss.” Both of these characters, who permanently live in the old Pyncheon house, display explicit qualities of melancholy. Hepzibah's and Clifford's connection with the house is much stronger than any of the other characters in the story. However, neither Hepzibah nor Clifford is a stable person. Hepzibah is old and almost lifeless, and the narrator's classification of Clifford is inconsistent, (Knadler 290). Clifford is described as “suffering from mania, melancholia, and dementia, including 'monomania,' and 'moral insanity'... diagnoses multiply until they are dislodged from their metaphysical grounding,” (Knadler 290). This paints a picture of Clifford as completely unstable, and it is made clear throughout the romance that these mental illnesses are caused by family history that is embodied by the house.
Similarly, Poe also creates a world wherein the sentient objects, which are not normally so, seem to, in a way, control the actions and even thoughts of the characters. However, Poe many times gives life to these objects through the minds of the character. To further explain, a character may think, feel, or otherwise sense something—be it true or not—and Poe turns that sensation into actual perception, which can also be regarded as a symptom of the character (Shear 298). This will inevitably create an unstable psyche of the character. For example, in “The Fall of The House of Usher” Roderick is a “dependent effect of his surroundings” because his “morbidly acute senses subject him to his environment,” (Taylor 31).
While Hepzibah and Clifford are affected by the house, the other characters of the romance, Phoebe and Holgrave, who come to live in the old house, have an effect on the house, like the previous inhabitants (only the effect is positive and not morbid). This aspect of the story is something that is absent in Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Toward the end of the first night of Phoebe's stay in the old house, the contrast between her and the house is extreme; the dark, antique canopy that hung over her bed is described as something that “brooded over the girl like a cloud, making night in that one corner,” (Hawthorne 70), while Pheobe herself is described with “a bloom on her cheeks,” (Hawthorne 70). As Pheobe makes a home for herself in the Seven Gables, she changes small parts of the gloomy house into a brighter, and more cheerful surrounding that fits her personality. For example, Pheobe's actions were described as an unplanned process,
She... gave a touch here, and another there; brought some articles of furniture to light, and dragged others into the shadow; looped it up or let down a window-curtain; and in the course of a half-an-hour, had fully succeeded in throwing a kindly and hospitable smile over the apartment, (Hawthorne 72).

Pheobe also nurses some plants back to life (Hawthorne 87), giving the whole atmosphere of the house a new light. Holgrave, not being a descendant of the Pyncheon line—rather a relative of the Pyncheons past rivals, the Maules—is not very affected by the house either. He seems to be a passive observer of the Pyncheon line and the power held over them by the house. This indicates that the melancholy of the house is held in place by the inhabitants of the Pycheon line, there is a direct connection between them and the house, guests are not as affected by the house. This contrasts greatly with “The Fall of the House of Usher” in the sense that the Usher house affects everyone in close vicinity to the house.
The characters in the House of Usher exhibit their own qualities of melancholy. Roderick has written to the narrator, previously divulging his symptoms of an unknown illness. Upon arriving at the House, the narrator also finds Roderick's sister, Madeline, to be ill—with catatonic spells. The decrepit house and the extremely morbid inhabitants of it are seemingly doomed from the beginning. Roderick greets his friend by saying, “I shall perish. I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost,” (Poe 2501). This greeting completely embodies the idea of morbid characters within the stories of Poe and Hawthorne. Roderick's illness that he claims to suffer from proves to be completely mental, only affecting his physical body because of the stress brought on by his specific mental state. This illness is also caused mainly by the house; the narrator describes it by saying,
He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit--an effect which the physique of the gray wall and turrets...had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence, (Poe 2501).

This shows the direct influence of the house on Roderick. However, in an attempt to rationalize this effect, Roderick considers the mental gloom that he has been feeling is caused by the illness of his sister (Poe 2501). Madeline's illness, though, had “baffled” her physicians (Poe 2502), and I believe another affect of the the house on her character. She wanders around the house, refusing to stay in bed, and falls into mysterious cataleptic states (Poe 2502). This coordinated with the mysterious ambiance of the house.
Unlike the house of Seven Gables, the house affects the characters. This is shown by the influence of the house over the narrator. As described earlier, the narrator's first experience in seeing the house put him in an opium-like dream, frightening and mystical, that he could barely awake from (Poe 2499). This first visual affect lays the groundwork for more effects on the narrator by a sentient house; the description of the house as having “eye-like windows” is one example of how the house is personified (Poe 2498).
Even though many of Poe's stories strongly hold Gothic elements, he also used science to reason most things, which made many of his psychological and mesmeric stories seem dreamlike and unrealistic. Everything in Poe's stories ties together; the places, the people, and even inanimate objects interact with each other and many times symbolize something greater. Poe's world of fiction “could push the senses into defining not only a subjective uniqueness but also into examining the ambiguous relationship of that experience to the material world in which the experience occurs,” (Shear 279). Poe can still hold his scientific beliefs by giving his narrators their own form of rhetoric that is completely distinct from his own, (Zimmerman 15). This use of a narrator within the story, on having his own personality and even rhetoric, gives the reader more insight into how the House of Usher specifically affects the visitor in a psychological way.
Hawthorne uses a technique very similar to Poe's; he gives his narrator his own rhetoric and ability to think apart from the actual author; “Within the persona of his 'unreliable' narrator, Hawthorne implicates the repeated critical distance of psychological diagnosis of the self, although the narrator attempts to step outside the immediate social context of his fable to theorize about the personality of the Pyncheons,” (Knadler 290). However, Hawthorne's narrator is an unnamed third party, whereas Poe's narrator is a significant character within the story. Hawthorne's narrator is seemingly in the story; in the first description of Hepzibah, it is as if the narrator is bringing the reader into the story with him to spy on the old woman (Hawthorne 30), and in his description of the house in the beginning of the story, as discussed earlier. I believe that Hawthorne's reason for giving his narrator his own rhetoric separate from his own, is much different than Poe's reason.
Hawthorne's narrator is somewhat unreliable because he is not completely omniscient, although he is a third party narrator. Even though Poe's narrator is an unnamed third party narrator that is not omniscient either, he participates in the story, but is even more unreliable than Hawthorne's narrator. Poe's narrator is shown to be more unreliable because of his first impression of the house, and his reaction to it. He compares it to an opium dream, suggesting that he has done opium previously. Also, his reaction to the gloominess of the house is one of Poe's ways of making the characters in his stories seem like they could have a mental illness because of the way they perceive objects as sentient. So, Poe essentially does what Hawthorne does to make the narrator unreliable, but takes it one step further. The narrator, much like the characters, in Poe's story seem to have a psychosis that permeates throughout the story, in their actions, that is brought on by their viewing the house as sentient.
In Mathew A. Taylor's essay “Edgar Allan Poe's (Meta)physics: A Pre-history of the Post-Human,” he describes the relationship of Poe's characters and sentient objects,
Literalizing the indistinguishability of building and inhabitants inherent to the 'equivocal appellation of the House of Usher,' the Story displays the effects of the mutual 'influence' of structure and lineage over 'the long lapse of centuries,' a reciprocal imbrication made all the more incestuous because the 'very ancient' family tree never 'put forth...any enduring branch' that lived beyond the mansions walls,”(30).

The mansion that Roderick lived in had a strong influence over his consciousness. He knew that his body was merely an ephemeral effect of the house (Taylor 31), as were the previous inhabitants of it. Taylor suggests that the house affects the inhabitants, and the inhabitants affect the house. However, I suggest that the influence of the house on the present inhabitants, Roderick and Madeline, is much stronger than their affect on the structure itself. The narrator describes a scene in which Usher has just finished singing a ballad, from which arose suggestions of the effects of the house on Roderick; “The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the methods of collocation of these stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around,” (Poe 2505).
Another element that is present in both stories is the theme of a crypt and secrecy within. In Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the crypt is the house itself, entombing all who live within it's walls. This concept is especially clear when Roderick's supposedly dead sister is temporarily kept in the house, in her coffin (Poe 2506). Another way in which it is crypt-like is that the house eventually does collapse and bury its inhabitants (Poe 2510). The theme of the crypt in Hawthorne's work is slightly different. The idea of the house as a crypt is similar to Poe, however in the Seven Gables the house only serves as a tomb for the old Mr. Pyncheon in the form of his portrait that is referenced throughout the story.
A key difference in the two stories is that Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables ends with a kind of hope that is not found in Poe's “Usher.” The main characters, what is left of the Pyncheon family, leave the Seven Gables, and move on with their lives (Hawthorne 314). The death in the end of the story is only the death of the evil, in Judge Pyncheon, and the house left behind to rot without its inhabitants. Overall, the story has a happy ending, very unlike Poe. Poe's ending of his story is more death and gloom. The inhabitants of the House of Usher are damned to the house. They spent their lives in that house, thinking of death, and then inevitably died in the house, which then buried them (Poe 2510). Poe's story ends in the horror of a morbid family, and a mysterious collapse of the house.
Through studying the aspects in which Poe and Hawthorne use sentient objects in their stories to affect their characters differently, I have come to the conclusion that, although seemingly similar on the surface, Poe and Hawthorne are very different writers within the Gothic genre. Both use the idea of perpetuating gloom and melancholy, but Poe's is unending whereas Hawthorne's is not. The use of sentient houses within the stories is different as well. Hawthorne's house is made alive because of the inhabitants, and their perpetuating gloom. This is shown by the changes that the house emulates as certain characters are present in the house, such as Phoebe making the house more cheerful. Poe's house is different; this house affects the inhabitants. Even though the gloom of the house may have been caused by the past inhabitants, the current ones are under the spell of the house. It has complete control of them, as shown by the deaths of the inhabitants. Both authors also use the rhetoric of their narrators to further describe the sentience of the house in different ways, through the unreliability of the narrators in different aspects.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. OH: Ohio State UP, 1965.

Knadler, Stephen. “Hawthorne's Genealogy of Madness: 'The House of Seven Gables' and Disciplinary Individualism” American Quarterly. The John Hopkins UP. 1995.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed Paul Lauter, et al. 6th ed. Boston: Hough Mifflin, 2009. 2497-2510.

Shear, Walter. “Poe's Fiction:The Hypnotic Magic of the Senses.” Midwest Quarterly. 47 (Spring 2006):276-89.

Taylor, Mathew A. “Edgar Allan Poe's (Meta)physics:A Pre-History of the Post-Human.” Nineteenth- Century Literature Berkeley 62 (2007):193-216

Zimmerman, Brett. Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. Ithica, Montreal:McGill Queen's UP, 2005.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest

I just wanted to post a short little blurb on how great I think it is when new movies are made of Victorian era comedies or novels. I just watched the 2002 The Importance of being Earnest (I'm a little behind, I know!) instead of starting my paper on Sense and Sensibility. Now, I definitely think that these modern renditions don't stand a chance when put up against the actual text... but I'm a little biased. The reason that I watched it tonight was because I just reread the play, written by Oscar Wilde for anyone who is unaware, and was re-enlightened on the hilarity of it. Wilde may become one of my favorite authors, for many reasons, but my favorite thing about him is that he takes so much from past literature. My favorite period of literature is the restoration (17th century England) and a little into the 18th century with the beginning of the novel. Well, part of my favorite aspect of that period of literature and culture is the idea of Libertinism. Not that I would by any means call myself a Libertine... (the American idea is skewed due to the hippie love movement...) but it is a fascinating system of beliefs and added so much to literature. So, back to Wilde, he likes to bring in some of these Libertine ideals through some of his characters, generally to make fun of them or just to have the misogynistic pig that everyone wants to hate, but is just so charming and funny that you can't really hate him. Wilde does this more in his book The Picture of Dorian Gray, but elements of it are found in the plays as well. The thing with The Importance of Being Earnest is that he used the comedy form from the restoration period. This play could actually be very easily compared with one of Wycherley's or Etheridge's. The only difference is that Wilde's play, to use a technical term, really cheeses it up. So, this is my random, overly excited post that can hopefully be understood by at least one other person. (This is why I have a hard time writing papers on Victorian and Restoration literature--I get WAY to excited about it, and my brain just craps out a bunch of useless information that I find fascinating... ) Love it! You all should watch the movie for a good, nerdy laugh... also, for other Victorianish era movies, I love the new Pride and Prejudice--it is so pretty. Now I just need to rent Dorian Gray... :)

If you have the money, someone will blow sugar up your ass.

On Friday night, I got together with some of my aunts and uncles on my dad's side of the family. I got to see my parents, and even my uncle Terry and aunt Mary, who I don't see too often. Well, my sweet aunt Mary told us this quote that her very conservative, very Catholic mother used to say, "If you have the money, someone will blow sugar up your ass." This got us all laughing, and became a new favorite quote. But it really got me thinking about how important money is in this society, and made me question how important having money is to me. I certainly wouldn't blow sugar up anybody's ass, but it would be nice to have a feeling of security throughout my life.
I was very blessed growing up. And I consider myself among the privileged. This is not to say that I think I am better than anyone else, but I know that I have had an easier life than many people. I grew up as a white, middle class, Christian in the United States. Not to mention, I went to a private school most of my life, and then had the opportunity to attend college. As I am getting ready to graduate and face the real world, I am starting to worry. Will I be able to support myself? Will I be able to support a family? How much money do I need to do the things that I want to do in life? These are questions that I have not thought much about. I have always been a firm believer that your quality of life should not be based on your income. I still believe this, but I can realize the difficulties that arise with income, and can easily take over.
Many of these questions are coming up now because of my place in life, and I think that I would be more worried if I wasn't thinking about these things. But these personal fears that I feel are nothing compared to what millions of people experience everyday of their lives. Poverty is a serious issue right here in our own state. We may not notice it, because, in very Minnesotan fashion, we see the good things of the state that we live in. While this is an important thing to see, we cannot ignore the problems. Sure, Minnesota may have a very high graduation rate, and be one of the nations leading states in education, but we also have one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation as well. This means that there is a significant difference in the number of white students graduating and the number of black students graduating in high schools across our state. Our suburb schools are great because they have the funding, and our inner city schools are not as great. The amount of funding allotted to a school depends on factor of income in a specific area. For example, if in a specific school zone there are a large number of foreclosed houses, then that school will not receive the same amount of funding as a school in a rich suburb where the houses are occupied and also cost ten times as much. This is why Mounds View high school is one of the best in the cities and the opposite can be said of some Minneapolis schools...
This is something that only we can change. Get rid of the no child left behind act, and create a program that is actually beneficial to all students, not just specific groups of students. More teachers with higher pay, books and technology available for all schools, and more charter schools with non-traditional teaching methods for students who need it. People don't realize it, but we are creating a large gap between high and low income families starting at a young age.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ben & Jerry's

Every day I go past the Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop. It is in a really terrible place!! Right on Washington avenue in plain sight from the bus that I take every day! I have always had a terrible addiction to ice cream. Well, not just ice cream but also chocolate, and cookies, and brownies, mmmm.... Luckily I was raised to have some sort of an idea of moderation, but that goes out the window when it is placed right under my nose! I have decided, though, that my slight ice cream addiction is a pretty okay way to deal with stress. I am not smoking or drinking excessively (not anymore than an average college student anyway) and haven't even considered starting a habit even worse than that. It just got me thinking about vices, and ways that college students survive.
In my past four, almost five, years of school I have met quite a few people, and all with their own way of dealing. Many drink almost daily, some buy a new outfit every week. The really healthy nuts train for marathons. Unfortunately many of the ways that we deal with our stress actually creates more stress. For example, drinks (and ice cream) are expensive, shopping is time consuming and well, just crazy for a college student, and the intense training that is required for a marathon is just too time consuming (really... that is the ONLY reason that I'm not out there doing it). The fact is, in our high paced, stressed out lives, we can't take anything in moderation. In college, it's all or nothing.
Some of my scarier examples of students are more about how to get everything done that needs to be done. Possibly the most extreme case was that of a law school student. He actually started a regular coke habit it order to get all his homework done, and to keep up with his classes. I was really happy at that point that I have absolutely no interest in law. Then there are the less extreme people like me. I can't even begin to count how many girls I have met in the bathroom that are bawling their eyes out because they just failed a test... or if they are even more like me, that they just received a C on a test. I can't imagine that all this stress is helpful in any way. Is the real world this bad?
In looking at the people that I have met over the years, I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. Give me a bowl of ice cream and a good book, and I may just relax a little. That is why I am an English major. I find the literature of the past generations soothing or at times highly entertaining. The thing that I am still trying to get the hang of is just being okay with myself in school and with my grades. Jonathan gave me a big fat "told ya so" today when I got my philosophy test back. I was convinced that I had failed it, not just worried, but actually convinced. I was one step away from going down to registration and begging them to let me drop the class. Turns out, I got the highest score...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My first blog :)

Today was was a really hard day for me. Since I am a senior in college, I have to start thinking about what I want to do with my future. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what I want to do! It has been one of my dreams (for quite some time now) to attend graduate school at some point in my life. Well, today I realized that I might not be cut out for academics. I stress out too easily, and I am easily let down by myself. I was recently told that my GPA is too low to get into a graduate program with funding. If I did decide to go to graduate school I would have to start out as a lowly masters student paying for it on my own, in other words--working while attending school. Well, as anybody who knows me already can guess, I have had enough of working myself to the bone by overloading myself with credits, and maintaining a job, sometimes even working full time. Maybe I just need a break before I seriously think about it. It is just hard not to feel stupid.
This semester is also made harder by the fact that I am taking Old English. For those of you who don't know, it is NOT Shakespeare (you would be surprised how many people think that), it is, rather, Beowulf and other texts written so long ago that no one is sure of their actual date. For example, right now I should be translating "Eft pa on fyrst, aefter fela gearum, pa seo hergung geswac and sibb wearp forgifen pam geswenctan...." the sentence goes on for an entire paragraph, and I am sure that you have as much of an idea of what is says as I do. That is kind of the problem...
Other than this wonderfully challenging class (and a Philosophy class that I can't even mention right now) I actually love the rest of my classes. My day got significantly better when I got to show off a bit in my Dracula and Decadence course in front of the grad students :) The class is a mixed grad and undergrad class on Victorian literature, a wonderful period where horror and decadence flourished. We just turned in our prospectus for the final paper, and, to my own personal horror, we had to discuss our topics... on the spot. Most people, and by people I mean undergrads, are writing about gender issues (women were apparently pretty useless at that time) or excruciatingly painful to read modern vampire stories compared to the Victorian vampire stories (yes, Twilight, and even Buffy). But then there is me. I am a HUGE nerd. So needless to say, my topic is on the transformation of the original Gothic novel, being Wallpole's The Castle of Otranto, to the Victorian Gothic novel. At least that is the broad topic. More specifically I will be looking at how the views of each society on Gothic architecture influenced the literature. This may seem a little dull, but I get to write about castles!! And people being trapped in castles!! It will be fun.
Another fun class of mine is Literacy and Cultural Diversity. For that class I volunteer for a few hours every week at a high school for kids who do not speak English as a first language. Most are Ethiopian or Somalian. Most are also amazing young people with an incredibly bright outlook on life. One girl (I have to mention!) speaks four languages. She is Somali, so she know Arabic and Somali, and she also now knows English and Spanish. We have hilarious conversations of mixed Spanish, English, and Somali words, and both of us only understand half of what the other is saying. She also wants to learn German. Working here has already blessed me in so many ways. I am the one that is supposed to be tutoring them, but so often I feel like the student. I think that this has inspired me to learn another language. After I graduate, I may take a night class at a community college or something. I would love to learn Arabic, but it is a very intimidating language since it is so completely unfamiliar to me.
Part of the reason that I wanted to start this blog is because in talking about how stressed out I am, I actually realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to learn all this. So often I get caught up in my own world of academics that I forget there is an entire world out there.