Monday, November 30, 2009

Narrating a Family

How do you write a family? There a certain expectations with families--but is there a right way to communicate that?

Take, for instance, coming home from a long trip. You meet your parents at the airport (or, maybe, for some readers, your kids), take the car ride home, shoot the breeze, whatever. And adjectives like "comfortable," "familiar," "cozy," "warm" come to mind, and it's assumed that everyone will know what you're talking about. Like your describing a blanket. What's the point of saying it's a seven-foot by five-foot piece of cloth designed to help you retain body heat? Everyone knows that. And if the blanket isn't like that, there's something desperately wrong. And if the family isn't like that, the same conclusion is drawn.

I had to write about my family for, shock of shocks, expository writing class. We were given this assignment over Thanksgiving break, a time when all those familial adjectives are in full force. Naturally, such an environment should foster nostalgic, congenial feelings, and I suspect the turned-in papers will likely reflect that (I could be surprised).

I began with a not-so-happy subject: the death of my grandfather. As I wrote this relatively short piece out, it became apparent to me that I wasn't writing about family so much as one man's quest to avoid it, as well as another's quest to create it. It became a comparison and contrast paper, as I think about it, detailing where my grandfather and father differ. It is still a family, after all, but like the torn-up blanket, not one you would intentionally create.

Family celebrates life, but it is often created or encouraged by death. Intimacy is constantly shadowed by the suggestion of drifting apart. People on the cusp of leaving on a long trip soak in all the company and high times they can cram in. On the occasion where friends and family have lost someone (which has become so often to become darkly ironic), it is the cruel twist that I know them the better for it. I think this suggestion permeates the narration of any family: it is not just the good times that define us, but the bad. This has been a long post to an almost-trite conclusion, but the writing of this narrative encouraged it.

My professor has read it, and called it painful. Family should never be composed out of pain, but it is the unfortunate truth that it often defines it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Defending Eliot

There are times when I don't want to be an English major. These are the times when I get tired of analyzing, of theorizing, of victimizing poor novels to the whimsies of seniors who just need to get a paper done. When you find yourself incapable of reading a book without wondering about the thematic relevance or contextual meaning of some incident or some line, if you're not looking to do that, it can jolt you right out of your reading.

I can already hear some of my professors' protestations: "It's good to detect themes. To be on the look-out for those is exactly what we have been trying to teach you!" And they succeeded, in that way. But it can be disconcerting when all you want to do is lie down with a book and read for fun. Somehow there gets to be a disconnect between the two: reading for fun and English Major Reading.

T.S. Eliot is a poet you wouldn't expect to be pleasure reading. He's long, allusive as all get-out, and seemingly incapable of writing simply. And, heaven help me, I read "The Wasteland" just for kicks only two weeks ago.

To be fair, I didn't read the footnotes. I didn't read his biographical intro or any theories on the poem itself. I just wanted to read it.

Eliot is musical. I don't understand a word of Italian or French or German, but the excerpts in "The Wasteland" are integral to me. They may come across as pretentious--I don't care. In words I've just defended Eliot with, I get caught up in the imagery and sound of the poem itself. It's not that the content is unworthy: it's beautiful, too.

But that's the point: it's beautiful. And sometimes you need something beautiful to carry you through the day.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Laughing Out Loud

So, I've been perilously close to not finishing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court for about a month now. Over the summer I made a resolution to finish every book I've started--even making pictures of each book my background on my phone to remind me. This has been successful in that I have finished every book I've started. Unfortunately, this also led to me reading a quite dreadful book, frankly.

This is not the case of A Connecticut Yankee. I've read Mark Twain before--Huckleberry Finn in my American Lit. class was a must, naturally--but never for fun. Leisure reading is so much easier for me to languish on and enjoy, to be honest. I feel like I'm betraying my English major-ness, but it's true: the book that you have to have finished by a certain date, be prepared to discuss, and analyze--that is the book that is work. When you are forced to study something, even if it is otherwise enjoyable, it quickly becomes tiresome (Sorry, Professor Dengler).

Anyway, I'm actually enjoying this book--not just enjoying, but actually laughing at. This book makes me giggle, chuckle, snort, guffaw. I've missed that; I've missed the book that can get me to cry, to gasp, to snarl in outrage. That is the reading experience, that is the quality book. A talented author doesn't just provoke thought, he or she provokes emotion.

Thanks, Mark Twain. If I choke back a laugh in the library, it's because of you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Prepping for the Week

As everyone in the region is bound to tell you, it's snowing, quite a lot. There's slush and everything. Even the natives are letting me know that this is unusual and odd and plenty of other synonyms, and I'm taking a moment to be mystical and wonder what kind of portent this would be.

On the one hand, snow is pure, clean, white. It's drifting from above in laziness--no blasts stinging the eyes today. It's innocent and fun, propelling gleeful snowfights and creative efforts that range from the homey to the impudent (there has been more than one snowman on campus impaled by sticks or screaming in silent terror).

On the other hand, snow this early has taken the place of Indian summer--the last wistful remains of vacation freedom and lolling about on the grass. It also is fairly deceitful: there are at least five people this morning who have referenced Christmas. First snow points to the ending of a semester, to the release of going home--that's not for two months.

Or I could just throw out the whole concepts of portents, and settle myself back to enjoy the snow that dusts my shoulders and shoes.

I like the last option the best.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Arguing the Point

At what point in an argument are you just doing it so you don't lose?

I face this question in the wake of an American Lit. class, which, frankly, was more full of energy than it ever has been before. This is mostly because of a good first presentation by the Feminists, who proceeded to portray the different veins of that literary criticism theory with a touch of satire and humor. I felt it was mostly good-natured, although not as serious as one might want an expository presentation to be.

Next came Deconstruction, which is one of the most difficult literary concepts for me to grasp, personally. Even when I theoretically understand it, re-explaining it (or, for that matter, asking a question based on it) seems a rigorous challenge. The presenters did their best, and did use a method to evoke questions and response that proved effective. A little too effective, in my case.

I chafe against being told what to do. I tend to voice opinions stridently. I also don't appreciate (what I rashly interpret as) condescension. Deconstruction, unfortunately, hits my literary buttons: I honestly don't know if I approve the theory or not, because my exposure to it has been through people who I have seen as "talking down" to me.

The time comes in class where I am accused of being contrary for taking a less-popular preference. To be fair, I do act contrary to amuse myself sometimes. This was partly one of those times, and partly because I was tired of the usage of biased words.* As I explained my choice (with more heat than necessary for a twenty-minute classroom presentation), I was interrupted by one of the presenters saying "What you're saying is... [despite not remembering the exact words, I felt that he had undermined my point and even marginalized it]". I interrupted right back with "Don't tell me what I'm saying."

It sounds mild enough, but I know this presenter. I know that he is full of enthusiasm for his subjects and discussion groups, for questioning and exploring, and I admire him for it. Unfortunately, I find that enthusiasm in a classroom setting to be more on the condescension side, despite knowing full well he would never intend such a thing. Outside of the classroom, I like him. Inside of it, it's hard to not be irritated.

At what point did I lose my grip on a legitimate concern, and simply want to win? Interruptions are neither polite nor constructive to a reasonable discussion. I don't like feeling stupid, and being told what I am saying strikes me as a correction against my own thought process--but that doesn't justify being ornery.

At least it made people laugh.

*In retrospect, that was part of the point of Deconstruction. Chalk one up to rash behavior.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Resurfacing in the Blogosphere

*pushes aside cobwebs*

Well, I haven't been here in quite a while. I've got to say, there's nothing quite so humbling as reading over submissions made when you were 17. Quite a few things have changed, to say the least. I'm now at college, studying literature and journalism--closer to the end than the beginning, to be honest. I'm an aunt twice-over, which is nothing if not provocation for maturing.

That last paragraph is required when you take a four-year absence: standard catch-up and chitchat. I feel like I should post something relevant, but any eloquence I might have had is now failing me. The blogs I do read--hopefully I'll have them as a sidebar soon--they're worth reading and mulling over. I'll just have to give it my best shot.

I'm afraid for my generation. I don't like to think of myself as either an optimist or a pessimist--mostly because I can't settle on one--but I have a perpetual sense of fear for other twentysomethings. Do we even know what we're talking about? I go to a Christian school, I'm friends with people who do have a sense of surrounding and circumstance, but that's just a small fraction of the peers just in my country alone.

What do we put as the most important element of our lives? I'm not talking about lip service, here, I'm talking about what is it we spend most of our time thinking about, obsessing over, considering, playing with. For me, it's the boundless Internet: not as a method of reaching things of what we would call *real* importance, but for the frivolities and amusements it provides. Failblog, fanfiction, digg, youtube--all of it, in some sense or another, mainly serves as punchlines. Or small diversions.

What is important tend to last, or have a lasting impact. The comforts of home, the relationships you cultivate, the direction your community is taking--those should be of importance. They are the way we interact with each other, the language by which we recognize familiarity and disagreement. Nowadays, what I see are disagreements over minutiae. Those are harmless enough, if we learn to live with them and accept them. But when they overwhelm the bigger (dis)agreements, making it impossible to discern what is good and what is not--that concerns me. And I fear that is how my generation is living, with the minutiae and the details and the frivolities.