The Lorax

I started this blog many moons ago as an assignment during my University days.  I was forced, in a graded way, to speak.  Speak about books and theories.  And I did.  And  I graduated.  But time went by and this blog sat dormant.  Work took over my days and the nights…  Well, the nights are for gin and tonics and early bed times.  I find myself ready to speak again.  Ready to scream, actually.

The degree waits to be used for that perfect career opportunity and I spend time drinking tea on my balcony and accidentally ‘Rear Windowing’ my neighbors. Some make it easy; displaying their dirty laundry for the entire complex to hear.  A silly conversation, or a half-drunken argument about who really won the last hand of poker…  I laugh it off and re-enter my safe little bubble.  But tonight, ah tonight I hold onto the happenings.

I watched, speechless while a little boy grabbed a helpless, teeny little puppy by its foot and flipped it into the air, only to laugh as it landed on the ground.  It happened again and again-so fast until a shriek came out of my mouth, which promptly scared the  boy back into his little bubble. While this is not the first questionable encounter I have seen between boy and PUPPY, I was resolved to make it the last.  After a ridiculous amount of phone calls to countless shelters and animal cruelty in investigators, I am still no closer to saving this defenseless, wordless little soul.  But I’m not giving  up.

As an avid Walking Dead fanatic, I grew complacent to the violence rather quickly. The idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ seemed uncomfortable but necessary in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. I’m rambling, but there is a point. Fellow Dead fans know how fast young Carl grows up in this world. They also see his heart harden before this growth. Now faced with inevitable doom, I can see how an impressionable youth can run a little askew, but in what kind of world are we living where a boy can torture a dog for the sake of fun?

“I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees.” It’s a silly little book with an amazing message, of which is severely and devastatingly overlooked.  Those two little sentences always stayed with me since the first time I read them.   I try to live by those lines. Those lines have gotten me into some pretty sticky situations.  But living in a world with no Lorax?  That’s not a world that I want to live in.  Bring on the zombies. I wish there were more Loraxes in the world.  I know quite a few, but we can always use help.  So I am asking, begging you, I am daring you if that will help.  Be the Lorax.  Speak.  Speak for those with no words, no hope, or no way out.  It’s hard, and sometimes it’s sad.  Sometimes there aren’t many who want to listen, but we make them listen. We have the power of words, of compassion, but most importantly, we have the inherent good that hasn’t been completely wiped out yet.

“I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees.”  And the animals, and the children, and the weak, and the different, and anybody or everything that cannot speak for itself.

“We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.”  -Steven Pinker

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Now What?

I was searching for something deliciously salacious to read after the semester ended.  (Anything that could allow me to zone out and not think for about two hundred, or so, pages would have sufficed.)  Perusing the aisles in my local library, trying to keep a sugared-up five year-old from knocking books all over the place, one book caught my eye.  Laying face up, away from the meticulously shelved summer reads, I found it.  Tim Lemire’s “I am an English Major- Now What?” promises to explain “how English majors can find happiness, success, and a real job.”  (As opposed to all of those pesky fake jobs.)  

I think the library/book gods were smiling down upon me at this moment, because I am still feeling nervous about what comes next.  Hopefully this will help to slow my heart rate a bit, and lessen my feelings of nausea.  The opening paragraph of the Introduction states, “if you graduated from college with a degree in English, the first thing you should know is that there’s no need to panic.  Have a seat, take a deep breath, and read on.”

If anyone else is feeling the way I am, it might help to pick this book up.  I know that I will be reading this book cover to cover..  Right after I finish my guilty summer read, Andy Cohen’s, “Most Talkative: Stories from the front lines of popculture.”  Don’t judge me.

Perception of Persepolis

After reading Persepolis and the essays about Persepolis, I have been thinking about the notion of feminism and female strength in different cultures.  I think it is incredibly easy to fall into one’s own culture trap and make assumptions about other cultures.  Because I stem from a small town called Milford, Michigan.  

After reading the essays, I began to try to think if it was really possible to come to a universal feminism.  I tried to think more on it after we had our discussion in class, and I can only come to the conclusion that I have to agree with my group.  There is no way to come to consensus and maintain a universal view on feminism, because the perception of feminism is different throughout all of the cultures.Image

I saw this cartoon a couple of semesters ago in my Women in Literature class, and it has stuck in my head ever since. I grew up assuming that women wearing burkas were forced to in some way by men and government, and I never thought to imagine that women were looking at us the same way.  While I don’t agree with the lengths some women in American and other countries go to in order to make themselves skinny, and “beautiful” and whatever else, I’ve never thought about the way women of other cultures viewed western women.

After I saw this cartoon, a light bulb went off, and it made perfect sense that our perceptions of each other’s views of feminism and beauty are mirrored back at one another because there is a misunderstanding between cultures.  I misunderstand the western views of female empowerment, and I live here.

Love and Lessons from Graffiti

I completely fell in love throughout the duration of this project.  I am now completely obsessed with graffiti and street art.  I have grown to appreciate every tag and portrait, every recycled project, and every burst of painted color on a building, alley or sidewalk.  I am constantly craning my neck to find my new favorite piece, and my camera is always on hand to capture and share with whoever is willing to sit through my android slideshows.  

I have learned a few lessons along the way as well.  I have learned that every stoke of the brush, drip of paint, and spray from a can has meaning for someone.  From the smallest tag, to the tallest, wall-sized portrait, every piece tells someone’s story.  Just as everyone’s life and story should be appreciated by all, every piece of graffiti deserves appreciation as well.  

I’ve learned that artists have a code.  Real, respected graffiti artists don’t hit schools or churches.  They aim to be the voice of the little people who aren’t otherwise heard.  They yearn to speak their mind about political and social injustices.  They also seek to make the streets beautiful and put a smile on the faces of those walking by.  Their goal is not to lay claim to a building.  (They are not marking their territory.)  An artist is generally seeking to add positivity to the environment, not create negativity.

And while these pieces on the street aren’t in a gallery, making thousands or millions of dollars, they are, in fact, still ART.  This fact hit home with me as a Literature major, because the under-appreciation of our these two fields are paralleled.  While my degree may not make me millions of dollars, it is still a DEGREE.  Just like the graffiti artists, I still worked hard, maybe even harder those more widely respected for their work.  

The paintings all along Shoreditch Street and Grand River Avenue are valid…  My art is valid, too!

Now, if only I can figure out how to upload the slideshow to this blog.  Everything would be perfect…..

The End is Near….

I find it hard to believe that in just one more short semester, I will be an Eastern Michigan University graduate.  It has been a long road to graduation, with many stops and starts along the way for various reasons.  I have these overwhelming thoughts about my past choices.  I should have stayed in college when I started at Grand Valley in 2000- I wish I would have been able to afford continuously going to school throughout the years-  And so many more coulda, shoulda, wouldas. 

But as I am finally nearing the end of the road, I start to think logically.  If I would have pressed on at Grand Valley, I would be a nurse right now.  I would have continued through nursing school because my entire family is in the medical profession of some sort and I would have only done it to appease them.  And also…  gross.  I hate hospitals;they smell. 

Moving along, if I would have gone straight through without taking breaks for financial reasons, I would have stuck with psychology.  Well, that degree is almost as worthless as a Lit degree in society’s eye, and I would not have had nearly as much fun. 

Moral of the story is that I am right where I need to be.  I think we are all right where we need to be, no matter who tells us we’re crazy, or our dreams are worthless.  The only problem is that now we have to prove them wrong.  We have to show THEM that we have been working toward something amazing, epic even.  We have to prove that we will live up to and exceed our goals, and then we have to turn around and give them the proverbial middle finger.  In a classy way, of course.  We are Literature majors, we should act as such. 

So we are coming to the end of the road…  I guess it’s time for a beginning.

 

Long Blog Post 2: The Death of Literature

 

Is Literature dead?  Is it dying?  As a class, we have been focusing on this very subject; the inevitable demise of our beloved field.  I refuse to believe that the field of English studies will ever cease to exist.  The idea that all of these great works of literature would be of some form of unimportance, is insane to me.  A book, a story, an essay; these are all forms of communication that should never, can never, be broken down if we want to continue as a society.  Works of literature combine history, culture, society, philosophy and so much more.  If Literature and the field of English dies, does this mean that history dies as well?

History doesn’t ever die.  While the numbers of disinterested students continues to evoke fear in the hearts of the “old-timers,” there are still the stories to be told and the ears to listen.  Whether or not the up and coming generations sit still long enough to hear the stories of the Civil War, it still existed, and brought about the life that they know today.  Just as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Twain, and Austen, and thousands of others made a mark on history.  Donald McCloskey states, in his essay, “Storytelling in Economics”, that “metaphors and stories, models and histories, are the two ways of answering ‘why’.”  I believe this not only to be a truth, but a fundamental reason why Literature, like History, can never die.  The answer to all questions comes in the form of a story in some way or another. 

Let me get off my soap box for a second and concede that English departments are downsizing because the number of English student enrollments have drastically decreased.  I understand the numbers and no matter how one sways them or finagles them, they still aren’t good.  I do believe that there will be a need for us “storytellers” and “metaphor users” to understand and explain this new technological boom to those who are less technology and communication savvy.  The need for our basic English skills, as well as our ability to derive how society looks at different forms of literature and situations (our criticisms), will help enormously in our careers, and our futures in general.   While the optimistic side of me believes that there will be an upswing of English enrollment as society settles into its new technological era, there is still the question of what do we do while we are waiting for all the other Literature non-believers to get on our bandwagon?

We defend the honor of the English studies.  We promote the intellectual curiosity that stems from reading and seeking knowledge through reading.  We say, “Sure, Hemingway was a drunk, and Sylvia Plath was a little bit crazy, but they were both geniuses, and either way, ‘Jesus, he loves his sinners, and heaven is a honkey tonk.’” (A little Ray LaMontagne reference.)  I digress.  We explain that literature’s value is
inherent.  It is what you gain from it, and not necessarily a tangible product, but it does not make it any less valuable.  Maybe more, because that tangible product someday made, was made from the idea placed in one’s head from the knowledge born of the field of English; from something read, or communicated, or inferred. 

And if all of this fails, we say “Yes, maybe I am going to teach.  So what?  Hopefully, the education I give will allow your children and your children’s children to string articles of a sentence together in such a manner that doesn’t consist of a grunt or snort as an answer to a question.  Maybe my ability to “waste my time and read a silly book” will somehow inspire your son or daughter to be the next great author.  Maybe he or she will sell millions and millions of books, and will, in turn, be able to buy you all of the amazing tangible gadgets that I don’t know how to make.”

 Maybe that is what a person can get out of an English degree.  I will have the luxury of knowing that my endless hours of reading and writing, will somehow lead a non-believer to a large amount of tangible crap, which they can hold in their hands and I can shout “See, it was all worth it!”  Or maybe learning something new about an author, or a culture, and doing what I love to do is enough.  Maybe being proud of what I put out into the world, and being proud of the trailblazers before me is more than enough.  I do not feel the need to develop a new singing cat app, or invent yet another cell phone.  I do not have the urge to make millions of dollars by exploiting our resources or the society as a whole.  I want to add my two cents where possible, and inspire someone else’s two cents, and so on, so one day we are richer, as a whole, than any mogul could ever be.  Maybe it is idealistic, but a girl can dream.  I want to inspire and create thoughts and dreams and leave a legacy of some form of knowledge and understanding, no matter what my sins may be otherwise, I want to be remembered for the literature, for the connections I made through literature. 

This is my rant.  My communication and connection to everyone wondering what the hell I am doing this for.  It’s not for the glory, or the riches, and I know that it will be difficult, but I have accepted that.  Literature is my great love.  End of story.

It’s common sense….

     After reading an interesting essay written by Catherine Belsey entitled “Traditional Criticism and Common Sense,” I can begin to understand how Belsey can maintain that common sense is, in fact, a theory.  She asserts that when reading a text, we, as the readers, assume we can learn something about the time or culture in the novel, or even the author’s ideas or attitudes can be deciphered from the writing.  We ask ourselves if the writer is sympathetic to a particular character, setting, or idea by the way they write.  Belsey claims that this is common sense.  It is a literary theory, according to Belsey, called Expressive Realism.

     Belsey goes on to further explain that there isn’t one solid Truth (capital T), but a number of small truths (small t) in a text.  While there are universal truths, and multiple truths that can be found throughout the novel, common sense, or expressive reality, is not used to find the one big truth or meaning of the text.  In Orhan Pamuk’s, My Name is Red, murder was a truth, the consequences of changing over time was a truth for the miniaturists, and love was a truth.  Perspective also played a large role in truth.  Black’s truth was that he was in love with Shekure.  in his eyes, from his perspective, his truth was that “Shekure was worthy of horses with silver reins, and ornamented saddles, mounted riders outfitted in sable and silk with gold embroidery, and hundreds of carriages laden with gifts and dowry.”(202)  He believed his love to be real, but his truth was really that he was in love with the idea of love.  Shekure’s truth and perspective was quite different from Black’s.  Shekure knew that Black’s interest in her “wasn’t eternal.”  From Shekure’s perspective, Black was in love with the idea of love and if it wasn’t her, it would be some other woman in which it took cares to fall in love with.  Their truths were completely different, but they were living in the same relationship.

     If art is truth, as I read on a bumper sticker on the way home, and art is based on perspective, then a truth is based on perspective.  I think Orhan Pamuk wrote truth as perspective beautifully.  And learning what I did about sixteenth century Istanbul and illuminations of books at the time, my truth is that I used the common sense theory while reading the book, and I didn’t even know it.

My Name is Red… Or is it? I’m Confused.

     I think I should start out by saying…what the hell? 

     I know that we discussed the confusion of the different perspectives in this book on Monday, but I’m still having to constantly re-read and second guess my understanding of the text.  In one moment, I will have certain character views under control in my head, but the next instant, I am completely confused. 

     I think this is actually pretty cool on the author’s part, because if I were trying to figure out a murder, these would probably be the emotions that I would experience; the idea that I have a grasp on the situation one minute, and then completely lose perspective the next.  
This book, to me, is the rising action music in a movie, but it never fades.  I am pummeled with more and more information and it is my job as the reader, and pseudo detective, to figure out who is lying and what information is relevant.  The fact that I have to read and then read again, is a little bit infuriating, but also beneficial because it helps me to pick up on cues that I may have missed during the first goround.  

     The book, and all of the information, both truth and lies, keeps me, as a reader, on my toes, and that’s a good thing.  One chapter, I think I have the murderer, and then the next chapter, I change my mind.  I don’t trust the characters, with their sometimes skewed perspective, but more importantly, I don’t trust my own judgement. 

Gerald Graff’s, “Beyond the Culture Wars”-The Long Post

Like Victor Villenuava and Mike Rose, literature had an impact on my life, early on.  In my case, books, and the characters in those books, became my best friends, my family, and my voice.  As a child dealing with an absent parent and separation anxiety, I didn’t really know how to identify and explain my emotions.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone about how I was feeling.  In fact, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone but my mother, period.

My mom instilled an early love of books in me and my sister, and in doing so, I did learn to read at a very young age.  I was consumed with “early learners” and “easy readers,” and I eventually moved onto the more mature books over time.  I got lost in the stories and I befriended the characters.  The villains were my villains, and the fairies were my fairies.  I read to get lost, and honestly, to avoid my own feelings, sadness and fear.  Eventually, the feelings emoted by the characters allowed for me to realize what I was going through, and I grew.  I also started talking and sharing.

The point is, books and literature had a great impact on my world.

While reading Gerald Graff’s, “Beyond the Culture Wars,” I definitely related to his opening sentences about one having “to be careful not to get too intellectual, lest they acquire the stigma of being ‘stuck up.'”  All throughout my adolescence, I was happier reading Judy Blume and E.B. White than riding bikes and climbing trees with the other kids.  I would rather track down The Last of the Very Great Whangdoodle, than stir up trouble in the neighborhood.  I was definitely labelled and type-cast for my life’s literary choices.  I was considered a “nerd” or a “bookworm” and made fun of for choosing “boring reading” over four wheelers and go-karts.  Even now, people perceive my love of Jane Austen as me being stuck up or snooty.  I do have other literary loves, but she is my literary soulmate.

For Graff, “getting serious” meant prelaw, premed, or business in his society’s eye.  In my world, as graduation began rearing its head, getting serious meant teaching or nursing.  Nothing but nursing was considered an option in my family, and a lot of the girls in my class were strongly considering going into the teaching field after graduation.  Like Graff, I also fell into the liberal arts territory.  Although I did like reading, I couldn’t really grasp making a career out of it, but alas, I am horrible at math and science and my fear of public speaking knows no bounds.  So here I am, pursuing a Language, Literature and Writing degree.  A degree which, when explained, always gets a pained expression and quizzical tone of voice from whomever asks.  “Well, what are you going to do with that?”  I don’t know yet, but it’s what I know and love.

But I digress.  The point is Graff and I have a lot of the same points of view and backgrounds.  We both read the classics, me lovingly and willingly, Graff begrudgingly and with disdain, but we both read with fear.  I had a fear that I wouldn’t find the “right answer” when I was reading.  I found further similarities with Graff”s reaction to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Graff says that the first time he read Twain’s work, he barely made it through.  It wasn’t until he heard a critic’s perspective, that he could go back and read it with a fervor and an interest.  I am definitely in this same boat.  Although most professors, when introducing a new book to a class will stress not looking into other criticisms, I always do as it helps me to find something new and interesting.  The criticisms help me to look at the book in a new light and in a way that I wouldn’t have thought to otherwise, and these criticisms help me to build new ideas from the ones already  written down.

So, if, like Graff, I loved books, but did not consciously begin critically reading books or paying attention to other criticisms until my college career, did I walk the path from the wrong way; did I enter in the exit?  Graff believes “this was not the way it was supposed to happen,” but who’s to say?  I believe that there is no right answer to literature.  There are theories and there are criticisms, but there are many and there will always be more.  That fact is part of the attraction to the literature field.  The idea that we as writers, and readers, and critics alike, can put more ideas out into the world to be absorbed, processed and sent back to us, with yet more information and ideas.

While Graff states there is a difference between reading innocently, without the “corruption” of critic’s ideas and reading while using critical theories, I maintain that while they are different ways of reading “on paper,” they are actually both melted together.  One cannot read without thinking, or without relating the experiences in the book to life experiences.  These relations can be personal or universal, and these relations are criticisms.  Whether you relate something you read to your own personal feelings, or to the world according to women, LGBTQ, or class systems in society, you are consciously or unconsciously using critical theories.

I believe there is a difference between “just reading” for pleasure and reading critically for school.  The difference is that when reading for school, I read with pen and highlighter in hand and a notebook by my side.  I consciously look for ways to deconstruct the text.  When I read for pleasure, very rarely do I highlight and document, but in both circumstances I am reading critically, because it is inherently in me, much like it is in anybody who picks up a book and reads the words on the page.  Those words turn into ideas, which spurn new ideas, and so on.

This is literature.  This is why we do it.

Truth, Justice, and Cultural Literacy… The American Way?

 

Once upon a time, in New York, a book is published. It claims to be “what every American must know,” but is it? E.D Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy “includes 5,000 essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts.” This book creates a bit of an uproar because within these pages there is supposed to be an answer. But it’s hard to find an answer when we are not even that sure of the questions. If one decides to read and memorize the entire list of key concepts, are they then culturally literate. What about the local issues or even the national and global issues that were omitted for space? Are they not relevant to cultural literacy? What is one trying to obtain with their cultural literacy and what exactly is it? And who decides when I am, in fact, culturally literate? The questions are about as endless as the list in the appendix of this book.

While I will say, that I definitely agree that even though Hirsch seems pompous, and privileged, he does make a valid point when he states that shared culture and knowledge of culture is important for communication. I think we can all agree that gaining any type of knowledge leads to the betterment of a person. Knowledge is power, and whatever other clichés you can think to throw in, throw them in! Heck, there may be some great ones on the list of key concepts.

So where do we obtain this knowledge? Hirsch believes we should overhaul the school system and gear it towards a more content based education instead of the skill based system we have in place now. I do agree that students need to be taught these concepts, but I am leery of any type of nationwide education curriculum. Hirsch makes the point that schools would not only teach what is in this book, but also locally pertinent information, and I wholly agree that this would be a good idea. My problem with this nationwide standard of education is figuring out who decides what is left out and what is put in? I would also wonder how far the government could go in regulating the material.

I do understand the school systems responsibility to the children, but I think the children need to become more aware of their responsibilities to themselves and their communities, because even if this standardization is set up, who’s to say that these kids are going to take the ear buds out of the ears, and the cell phones out of their hands long enough to retain anything. Who’s to say the kids will even show up? As individuals, adult and child alike, we need to want to become more culturally aware and literate. We need to think it is important enough to be able to carry on a conversation and understand what the other person is saying. We need to understand what wars were fought to get us the freedoms we enjoy today and what great authors paved our paths as literature students.

And even though, the list is forever incomplete and yet still so daunting; And even if I vaguely recall some subjects, or know way too much about others, I might just peruse again and dig a little deeper. After 5,000 days of research, Mr. Hirsch can consider me culturally literate, and I’ll know AT LEAST 5,000 new fun party facts. Who knows, maybe I’ll even blog about it.