Saturday, October 30, 2010

meta stuff

So, inspired by Julie, I added a list of the blogs I read regularly over there on the left side.  I know I left some out because only the most recent five of the Betty blogs show up on Lucy March now, and my memory's not that great.  In other words: work in progress.  But, more to the point, some of you are (wisely) protecting your privacy so well that I didn't have any way to e-mail you and ask permission.  So if you'd rather not have your blog listed, let me know and I will remove it pronto.  (Since I have so few readers, my e-mail is in a link on my profile.)

And I can already tell I'm going to love having that list over there.  It makes checking through all "my" blogs easy cheesy.  Great idea, Julie.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

GS: you made me throw up a little

Yes, I do realize there's such a thing as taking a metaphor too far, but I love Happy Bunny, so yes, I did go there.  The last grad school post was about eating crow, this one's about re-thinking that.  So what else could I call it?

So, the idea the last time I posted about my theory class was that I was finally giving in to the pressure, the relentlessness of studying theory.  You get inside the mindset, and suddenly it all makes sense, and you think, "Oh, yeah, this is true."  But within a couple of days of posting that, I started to realize that this feels awfully familiar.  This feeling of "consciousness raising," of having my ideas turned upside down again.  Not to cavil too much (I only threw up a little)(*ducks and runs*), because I really have learned a lot of great new stuff in this class.  Like ecocriticism.  I didn't think I'd be interested in that much when I saw it on the syllabus.  I figured it would about reading Thoreau and Annie Dillard, and I've already confessed to my dislike of that type of writing.  But that's not it-- or at least, that's only a very small part of ecocriticism.  It's actually a broader emphasis on recognizing the way setting and place affect literature, and recognizing the way "nature" is treated in a literary work and how that parallels the way it is treated in our larger society.  (and don't even get an ecocritic started on what the word "nature" means. seriously.)  I've become so interested in it that I may write my final paper in another class on an ecocritical reading of one of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's books.

I'm digressing again.  But there are still a lot of gripes I have with the whole theory mindset.  For one thing, it's practically nihilist.  Hmm.  I just looked that up and it doesn't mean quite what I thought it meant.  What I meant to say is that it leads--if you take it to its more-or-less logical conclusion-- to despair.  I will try to explain.  Is someone out there more of an expert on this than I am?  because you should really weigh in here and either help me out or argue with me.  Three months of studying theory hardly makes me the person to try to explain this.

But when has that ever stopped me?  So, you have all the critique of capitalism, which is pretty interesting and pretty damning for the world we live in.  We immerse ourselves in media/entertainment which makes us convinced we need certain products, or to dress so that we express ourselves (which still involves buying clothes and makeup and accessories, and so supporting somebody's bottom line), and we need certain gadgets (OMG do I want an iPad, not kidding, which would go straight into Steve Jobs pocket).  We are utter slobbering victims of brilliant marketing every minute of our lives practically.  And all of it is going to line the pockets of the people who own the means of production.  We worker bees live in a world of denial, thinking that the harder we work, the more we will get ahead, when really, we're just reinforcing the capitalist juggernaut.  And the things that keep us happy-- buying a new pair of shoes, reading romance novels, going on vacations-- all those things are just part of what's called the "hegemony," the cloud of denial that's created by all sorts of cultural institutions and practices that deludes us into thinking we're doing all this for our own good, while really we're just the victims of capitalism.

Marx started this, of course, and he thought that as soon as the workers began to see how they were being exploited, they would revolt, overturn the capitalists, and bring in a new kind of economy where ownership of the profit-making stuff would be in the hands of the workers rather than in the hands of owners who were completely disconnected from the actual work.  How this ideal society would be constructed is the subject of much debate, of course, and a number of fairly disastrous fascist and/or totalitarian governments resulted.  So you can argue with his ideas of how things "should" be, and I'm happy to chip in.  But that doesn't change the fact that the marxist critique of capitalism is pretty disturbing.  It's just that Marx and others of his generation underestimated what my professor calls the "resiliency" of capitalism-- the ability of capitalism to absorb any and all attacks by convincing all of us that it's in our best interests to support it, even though it may not be.

So of course the first argument I would make is that the whole problem with both systems, marxist and capitalist, is that they both assume that money, profit and the like are the most important things in life.  I don't believe that.  I believe that there are all kinds of things--familial, social and spiritual-- that are more important than profit, than my own economic well-being.  And of course a Marxist would say, that's the hegemony.  Anything that convinces you that something is more important than your economic well-being.  Which is why Marx thought religion was the opiate of the people.  This stuff is just fascinating to me.  (Marx himself never used the word hegemony-- that's a later twist on Marxist thought, I think from Althusser.  Marx called it "ideology," which is along the same lines.)

But I still say:  well, fine, but money and profit will never be my primary goals in life.  I don't want them to be.  I reject your reality and substitute my own, as they say on Mythbusters.  I just don't buy it (yup, that pathetic pun was intentional).

What bugs me about the whole theory mindset, though, is that if you really carry it out to its logical conclusion, then anything you can do that positively participates in culture-- from raising kids to buying groceries to publishing your novel to retail therapy-- in short, anything that contributes to keeping the world going-- is strengthening the hegemony.  and then you keep going through the history of theory and you start to see how the hegemony supports sexism and homophobia and racism and classism and so on. So if you read all this stuff and become truly horrified by it (which is easy to do, because it's pretty scary stuff), pretty soon you are so horrified that you don't want to do anything that involves you in it, your only alternative is to just check out of life.  You can't do anything (except stand on the sidelines and critique), because anything you do will just contribute to the continuation of all this stuff that horrifies you.  Despair.  Despondency.  Nihilism. 

I'm so impressed that you're still reading, because even I lost track of where I was going.  I think there was something else I wanted to say, but it's late and I've lost it.  so this is (possibly) to be continued.

Friday, October 22, 2010

random thoughts: update edition

Hi, y'all.  I have lots of short things to say, most of which are in response to previous posts of mine, at least one of which was a long time ago and no one is likely to remember, but I'm calling them "updates" anyway.

1.  So, the Shakespeare test.  It went pretty well.  We've read four plays and several dozen sonnets so far, and there were ten IDs.  It's harder than you might think to identify 3 or 4 line snippets when you have several thousand lines to choose from.  But I figured if I concentrated on the scenes he had gone over in class, it would work out OK, and it did.  I knew seven of them for sure, and managed to guess correctly on two based on context.  But the reason I'm typing this out is to pass along a strategy he gave us for the essay part, which probably everyone else knows but it was new to me and it worked really well.  You come up with an essay in your head ahead of time.  I didn't write anything down, but as I was reviewing, I kept my eye out for similar themes between the plays and I had something in my head.  Then when you get the essay prompts (there were three, and we had to choose one), even if you don't have *exactly* what you need in terms of a prompt, you can fit what you've got in your head to one of the questions.  It worked great.  Or at least, I hope it did.  I have no idea what he'll think of what I wrote, but there was none of that pit-of-the-stomach panic that I often get when i read the essay prompts and can't think of one dang thing to say.

2.  The four letter word (diet).  I don't diet.  Old post, I won't go over it again here.  But I have let myself get too heavy over the past six months (metabolism slowdown--menopause is a bitch)(have I written that post?  I don't think I have.  But perhaps I will pass, because hello, how to scare off your readers.)  Anyway.  I mentioned my dilemma (too heavy, hate dieting) to a friend who is a health care practitioner and she recommended The Slow Down Diet.  All I've read so far is the first chapter, and I haven't lost any weight yet (I don't think, I don't weigh myself very often, but it doesn't feel like I've lost any), so this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's really interesting.  The first step is to slow down, relax while you're eating, and allow your body to accept nourishment.  Sounds simple, right?  But it has been surprising.  I didn't realize how much of my mental attitude about food is about fighting it off-- sort of willing it not to make a difference, willing it to be about something else besides meeting my body's needs.  I'm not sure I'm describing this very well.  But just the mental act of thinking about my body absorbing nutrients from the food I eat while I'm eating it has been an interesting exercise.  It has been so interesting that I haven't even gone on to the next chapter yet.  Will keep you posted.  ha.

3.  Guilt, guilt, guilt.  I was snide on Monday about my past, about the way I used to believe and many people I love still believe.  In hindsight, I should have confined my 'snidery' to the hair splitting attitude, but I didn't.  I made fun of having the joy of the Lord.  I know better.  I knew when I typed it I would regret it later.  But I was going for cynical funny, and later it made me cringe.  I actually had a dream about it that night.  We were at a big, shiny clean roller rink (seriously), and everyone was skating past me on their shiny roller skates singing praise songs and I was not moving.  Just standing there stock still while everyone else whizzed past.  Can you believe it?  OK, then! that is clear enough even for someone as dense as me.  I don't believe in the same thing I meant when I used that phrase twenty-five years ago, but I still do believe in joy that comes from some kind of spiritual wellspring.  (Of course I'm not going to define exactly what that means because that would be against the principles of abeyance, right?)  I shouldn't have been snide about it.  I apologize and humbly repent.  So now I should get a happy dream where I'm flying, too, right?  But it never seems to work that way, damn it.

4.  Twitter. I'm getting hooked.  It took me awhile to get it set up so that I like it, but how else are you going to feel your phone buzz the "incoming text message" buzz and then you look down and you've got a text message from the Dalai Lama?  How cool is that?  I'm so curious whether or not he has anything to do with it or if it's just one of the under-Lamas doing all his techie stuff, but I don't care.  It's still cool.  Except could he lay off that compassion theme?  Because I'm getting really impatient with it.  (that was supposed to make you laugh.)  That and the daily quote from GoogleBooks are the only ones I still have coming to my phone-- I figured out really quickly that you could end up deluged with texts if you turn that feature on for all your tweeps. (For those of you who still haven't taken the plunge, you can read the "tweets" from the people you've chosen to "follow" on the twitter webpage or have them sent to your phone as text messages.)

well, these turned out to be longer than I anticipated, so I'm going to save the fifth one for a separate post because it was going to be the longest one anyway.

TGIF and all that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

random thoughts: iPod edition

OK, so now that I've admitted publicly that a) I have Ke$sha on my iPod, and b) I know how to spell her name (although I did Google it to make sure I had it right), I'm feeling a fair amount of pressure to say something intelligent today.  Which is making it nearly impossible to think of anything intelligent to say.  So maybe I will just ramble on about my iPod, which has become a commodity fetish to me (see, I'm learning something in my theory class.  maybe not what she wants me to learn, but I'm learning.  A commodity fetish is --loosely-- when an object takes on a value that is far beyond its actual worth.  Technically, this would be due to market forces, but when you use it snidely as I am here, it just means that I've become mildly obsessed with it, because it is so cool and fills so many (perceived) needs).

Oh, yeah, I was just going to ramble on today.  So anyway.  I have a purple one.  Dh got it for me for Christmas three years ago, and it has been a lifesaver with all the travelling I've been doing.  It has music and podcasts and audiobooks and Chinese lessons (well, they're not there anymore, but they were when I was taking Chinese), and did I mention audiobooks?  Books for fun, kids' books for family road trips, books I need to read for school so I can get some studying done while I'm driving (right now I'm listening to the House of Mirth, which I'm supposed to have read by 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, so what the heck am I doing sitting here writing a blog post?). 

And playlists.  I have incredible playlists.  70s music, which is divided into two, pop and "real" stuff like Led Zeppelin and the Stones and Cat Stevens; Cooking Music (which is mostly Motown), treadmill music (which is hiphop and the TingTings and oh, OK, I'll admit it since I've alread 'fessed up to Ke$sha, Britney), mad music (start with the Immigrant Song, Black Dog and Slither, move on to more Led and Welcome to the Jungle, until by the end I'm laughing at Magic Bus and Pour Some Sugar on Me), Dinner Music for when we have friends over, and a mix that is constantly in motion that is what I listen to while I'm driving to school ten hours a week.  It's always a mix of old and new stuff.  Right now it has three Sleigh Bells songs (I have yet to meet another adult that likes them, but I love 'em--start with Rill Rill if you want to hear some, it's the least, um, different), a couple each of Stevie Wonder and Clapton, White Stripes, Plain White Ts, G. Love and Special Sauce, Jonathan Coulton (thanks to Lucy!), Queen and about a dozen other songs that interest me at the moment.  There's not much country, but a few-- like Kenny Chesney's duet with Dave Matthews, "I'm Alive" and Keith Urban's "You'll Think of Me."

OK, I'm boring you.  See, I told you: mild obsession.  So here's my advice:  about 30 songs in a playlist, because on any given day, you're not going to want to listen to a particular song, so that way you can skip right past three or four and still have plenty to listen to.  Because you clicked on my blog today so that you could learn how I set up playlists, right?  Right.  I knew that.

I do have something more intelligent to say but it's going to have to wait till Friday because that's all I have time for today (Shakespeare test tomorrow!!  House of Mirth!!  Why oh WHY am I sitting here??) and Thursday is the day that I leave the house at 7:45 a.m. and don't get home until 9 p.m.


And I'll just leave you with this:  All we want to do is eat your brains, We're not unreasonable, no one's gonna eat your eyes....  makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

treadmill thoughts

You might think, given my background, that I was raised a teetotaler.  But we most emphatically were not teetoalers.  Teetotalers, we thought, were people who didn't drink alcohol because there was a Rule about it.  They didn't drink because it was Wrong to drink.  They took great pride in the fact that no drop of alcohol had ever passed their lips.  It was a sort of snobbery.

But even though we weren't teetotalers, we didn't drink either.  There was almost never alcohol in our home.  Partly because my father worked for institutions where it could have cost him his job if he had been seen publicly consuming alcohol (they had a Rule about it, you see).  The difference was that there was no rule involved for my parents.  My parents, and therefore we their children, didn't drink because we chose not to drink.  (I hope you know me well enough by now to hear the smirk behind that sentence.)  We didn't need alcohol to be happy or to enjoy a party or to have fun because we had the joy of the Lord. I can even remember saying this to people on occasion once I transferred to a secular school and attended parties where drinking, to put it mildly, abounded. It was a sort of snobbery. 

And although I can smirk about the hair-splitting involved in this attitude, I can't really knock it.  For all the other problems my family has, alcoholism isn't one of them.  I've never wasted a night being wasted.  I've never ended up at 3 a.m. kneeling over a toilet.  (well, actually, I guess I have with migraines, but never from alcohol).  And since not drinking alcohol was such a big deal, experimenting with drugs never even entered my mind.  Other than once or twice at a concert, as far as I know I've never even inhaled. 

Which makes me entirely naive about recreational drug use, and entirely flummoxed by the series of novels (usually by young men) that came out in the latter part of the twentieth century where drug use was so much a part of their experience of growing up that it was hard to separate one from another.

You know what, this is --again-- going off in an entirely different direction than I had planned, and since I'm still supposed to be writing that paper, I'm going to stop and back up to the brief post I was planning to write when I sat down.  snort.  It was going to be two paragraphs.  Put me in front of a keyboard and I can pontificate about anything.  Unless I'm writing a paper, of course, and then it's like pulling your dog into the vet's office, feet splayed, every cell yearning to be anywhere else.

*clears throat*  OK.  What I was going to say is:  Even though I do drink alcohol now-- along the lines of a single drink 2-3 times a week-- I'm not big on it.  So when I'm barreling along on the treadmill and Ke$ha comes on and says "Before I leave brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack / cause when I leave for the night I ain't coming back," I should have no way to relate to the song.  I am, after all, the one who gets giggly silly after four sips of a mojito or half a glass of wine.  I don't "party," at least not in the way she means, not even close.  But by the time there's a dead pause and then she growls slyly, "Now the party don't start till I walk in," I'm glad there's nobody else in the house because I belt it out right along with her.  I've never been to the kind of party she's talking about, but at 49, one of the things I know for sure is that if I don't show up for my own party, for my own life, it doesn't happen.

This was supposed to be short.  :-)  Have a good one.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I went camping with some friends from my old job this weekend.  It was only about 24 hours (I came back early because I'm supposed to be writing a paper), but it was great.  It was the usual magic of camping--lots of good conversation, gorgeous views, away from everything but the elemental stuff--preparing food, figuring out shelter.  I'm not the world's more outdoors-y person, but I make exceptions for stuff like this.  And the weather cooperated, which doesn't always happen.  It couldn't have been a prettier fall weekend.

We worked together for four years in the special ed department at a public school.  I didn't work directly with the kids, I was just the administrative assistant, but it was an amazing experience.  I learned so much about being "differently abled."  And if you want to meet some dedicated people, that's a good place to look.  The job itself ended up not being the right thing for me, but the people and the experience were solid gold.  I love getting together with them (has it really been three years since I quit?), and just sitting and listening to them tell stories about the kids and the hassles and the red tape and the joys.  And, true friends that they are, they seemed to be genuinely interested in trials and tribulations of graduate school, too.  It was a much needed break. 

So why am I sitting here instead of working on my paper?  Excellent question.  Off I go.  Send whatever paper-writing vibes you can muster this way. (topic? why, the ever-fascinating deconstructionist reading of Kafka's Metamorphosis.  Bet you're jealous.)  Hope you're having a nice weekend.  (It has occurred to me that maybe I should do shorter posts more often, so here is one.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

since you asked... oh, wait, you didn't

In one of Martha Beck's books (probably Finding Your Own North Star, since that and the one about her son are the only ones of hers I've read all the way through, but it's been several years so I'm not sure), she talks about two young women, one who had the perfect childhood with parents who showed up for every event, paid for an expensive education, supported her ambitions, etc.  The other whose parents were hyper-critical, demanding, never believed that their daughter measured up, etc.  Then at the end of telling the two stories, she tells you that they are the same person.  It just depends on how you look at it.

My childhood was much like that.  I could tell it to you one way and it would sound like a fairy tale.  I could tell it to you another way, and you wouldn't believe I've survived it.  It just depends on how you look at it.  The way I survived much of the dark side was by building a pretty world in my head.  God, it's sweet in there.  It's one of the reasons I'm so introverted, because when I get into that space, it's so much nicer than what's outside.  But it's not real, and it takes a lot of energy to keep it up.  Every time I let go of a new layer of it, I discover that reality is better.  Grittier, uglier, harsher, but also more true, with a different kind of beauty that is.... well, better.  I'm going to start sounding maudlin about something that is not maudlin at all if I keep going.

But getting there, getting through the letting go part of it, can be ugly.  And frightening.  On the days when I'm dealing with the shit that I've shoved aside, it is practically nauseating.  When i was younger, the world in my head was so disconnected from reality that I had to let it go.  It was either that or go nuts.  (and sometimes it felt like both ways were nuts.)  Now I'm old enough and somewhat wise enough to be a whole lot better connected to reality than I used to be.  And I've also been through it enough times to know that the bad times are often connected to hormones, which takes a way a little bit of their sting.  You can't take it quite so seriously when you know you're going to feel better, no matter what you do or don't do, if you just wait a few days.  But still. ................ yuck.

And that is yet another good thing about being older-- both that I know enough to not take it so seriously, and that I know for sure that if I go through it, if I stick it out, it will be better on the other side.

Gee, get out much, AB?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

GS: in which a quantity of crow is eaten

My understanding of physics is that Newtonian physics covers the vast majority of our everyday experience, but when you get to the outer edges-- say, approaching the speed of light, or temperatures approaching absolute zero-- Newtonian physics cease to apply, and Einsteinian physics comes into play.  (I don't think physicists use the term "Einsteinian" but if I know the right term, I can't remember it.).  But once you understand Einstein's theory of relativity, etc., it changes the underpinnings of how you understand everything, even the apple falling from the tree and conking Newton in the head.

So, that's how I'm coming to understand theory.  99% of life happens just fine without knowing anything about Saussure or Greenblatt or Althusser.  But once you get it, it changes everything.  So I'm there.  I was wrong; or at least I was wrong in the same way that Newton was wrong, which is to say, not exactly wrong in context, but still, wrong, or at least naive, in the larger scheme of things.  (good grief, did I just compare myself to Newton?  *shakes head*)  Well, OK, not anything like Newton, because Newton was beyond brilliant and came up with any number of ideas that changed the world; I'm just making my snide little comments over here from the peanut gallery about the things that I read.  What I mean to say is that some of the things I said were acceptable in their own little context (and some are just plain old wrong), but in the larger scheme of things, to say I was uninformed would be giving me far more credit than I am due.

It does seem, though, that I come down more on the side of the Europeans than the Americans-- French feminism as opposed to the more strident US version; British Green Studies as opposed to US Ecocriticism; Cultural Materialism as opposed to New Historicism.  Lord knows where that comes from because I've spent a grand total of about 3 months in Europe spread out over four different trips.  But I was reading along in Peter Barry's book Beginning Theory (and if you ever get thrown into a theory class with no prior experience, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for explaining the dauntingly obscure minutiae of the topic with blessedly readable clarity), and came across something that provided a clue.  And of course now I can't remember which chapter it was in so I can't quote him directly, but the gist of it was (and I'm mangling this enough with my own opinions that it's entirely possible he would want nothing to do with this distinction):  the Europeans see the a-ha! moments that theory provides as movements toward positive change; i.e., now that we know this, we are better informed as we move forward.  "Political optimism" was the phrase I think Barry used.  The Americans have the a-ha! moment and then react in horror to people who still think the old way. And with good reason-- the way things have been (the ideology, the hegemony) has been used to legitimate slavery and the oppression of women, to rationalize poverty, to marginalize gays-- in fact, without the examination of our biases that theory provides, we tend to suppress any kind of thought that isn't mainstream.  Because that kind of thinking still continues, the American theorists tend to concentrate on identifying it as a way of trying to root it out.

But that continual focus on rooting out every possible occurrence of the old way of thinking is enormously difficult to stomach of you're just Jane Doe from the Northern Rockies.  For one thing, it feels like it's stuck in unending, infinite analysis of the past, without offering anything constructive for either right now or for the future.  For another, it sometimes has a tendency to make those who practice it into unendurable snobs.  We've had to read two articles by this one woman critic that honestly make me feel like I'm a puppy whose nose is being stuck in my own poo.  Bad dog.  I don't often "hate" anything, but last night as I was struggling through yet another dense thicket of jargon and sneer, I thought, "I hate this woman."  Maybe she's "correct" in her ideas, but her attitude, that "I'm Right and you're Wrong" thing she's got going-- she's not convincing me.  I'd argue against her just to play devil's advocate, just to disagree with someone who is so pompously self-righteous.

Well, then.  I guess I didn't do a very good job of humbly eating crow, since I turned it into an opportunity to gripe about the people I'm supposed to be capitulating to.  (and isn't that a glaring dangling preposition, but I'm leaving it there because dang it, this is my blog and I can be bourgeois if I want to.)  You notice I didn't say a "large" quantity of crow, just a quantity.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Uh, everything's under control. Situation normal.

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

Hey! Maybe we'll have Name That Quote day today. There's a couple of gimmes in here (if you don't know #8, I'm not sure we can be friends), but some more obscure ones, too.

1. Pigs! You're all Pigs!

2. Don't tell me: he sends a check every week to his sweet, grey-haired old mother. 
Actually, she's silver-haired.

3. It's just a flesh wound. 

4. I will take it! Though I do not know the way.

5. Look! I have one job on this lousy ship, it's *stupid*, but I'm gonna do it! Okay?

6. I ain't playing with you, K. Did you ever flashy-thing me?

7. Once again, we've saved civilization as we know it.
And the good news is they're not going to prosecute.

8. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

9. I'll tell you what a paramecium is! That's the paramecium! It's a one-celled critter with no brain, that can't fly! Don't mess with me man, I'm a lawyer!

10. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.
[ha, this one cracks me up every time.]

I ended up deleting Wednesday's post because it just pushed my uncomfortable buttons.  Sorry about that, especially to Becky and Lora who had already commented. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

GS: ooooh, shiny

this post bores me silly.  but I wrote it yesterday and I haven't posted anything in several days so I'm sending it through.  Save it for if you're having trouble getting to sleep tonight.

When I went off to college lo, these hundred and fifty years ago as an 18-year-old with a newly minted high school diploma, brimming with naive enthusiasm and fully believing that I would help change the world, I was also a conservative, Evangelical Christian born and bred.  In spite of my firm belief that I was open-minded and sophisticated (because I was, compared to many of the other kids in my senior class), I knew nothing.  Nothing.  I grew up mostly in the South, in East Texas (and if you don't think that's the South, let me just invite you to stand up and say that in a bar in East Texas and see if you make it out alive).  I was so much a product of a particular time and place that it embarrasses me now to think of some of the opinions I held as if they were gospel.

So, as you might expect, much of my undergraduate career was studded with moments of revelation (hell, much of my life has been).  Moments where my brain was turned inside out as I discovered that certain sacred items of my youth were not universally true-- and more than a few of them were not true at all.  Maybe not always in the ways you might expect.  The cliche' among conservative Christians is that their children will go off to college, be exposed to misleading and/or evil ideas, and be lead away from their faith.  But I spent my first two years at a Christian school, and being among Christians 24/7 was what led me to the edge of faith.  Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's at least partly true.  It wasn't that they were so hypocritical (although there was plenty of hypocrisy, my own included), it was that it became clear to me that my own naive ideas of what Christianity was "supposed" to be like (all love, all the time) weren't in any way related to reality.  Also, since the school was well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I started figuring out that at least some of what I was raised to believe was important was a product of living in the South--with little or nothing to do with Christianity.  Which may be why some people don't go very far from home for college-- they don't want anyone messing with their heads.  I am definitely getting off track from what I wanted to write about. 

But it turns out that I loved having my head messed with (so to speak).  Once it had happened a few times, I loved that feeling of WOW, I never thought of it that way.   It happened while I was still at that conservative school when I took a Sociology of Women class from a fairly liberal (considering where we were) woman professor who went through the Bible with us and had us examine exactly what the bible says about women (which is not always exactly what the conservatives would have you think).

It happened with my first contact with gays (well, first that I was aware of), due to a very dear man who lived in the same house I did my junior year and who came out that year.  I was not a very good friend to him, I think, but he was tolerant of me, and I learned a lot.  I hope I've done better since.

As I've said many times, it happened when my daughter was born.  And it's why I love to travel.  You see how other people live, and it challenges your own assumptions--both about them and about yourself.  When we went to China in 2009, I was excited about seeing a new place, but I didn't really think I'd like it.  I had this near-queasy feeling in my gut about Asia, which as far as I can tell was a legacy of the presence of the Vietnam war on the nightly news throughout most of my grade school years.  As it turns out, I was blown away by the warmth and friendliness and ...well, the humanity of the Chinese people.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that (because--duh--the Chinese people are human), but that's the way these brain twists always are-- once you get to the other side, you can't quite believe you ever thought the old way.

I love that feeling.  In fact, a few years ago when all of us in my women's group created bucket lists of things we wanted to do before we died, there were no items on my list, just a statement that I wanted to continue to learn and do things that would twist my brain, blow me away, the proverbial fruit basket turnover.  (hmmm, which is maybe why I find it so frustrating to live in a small, rural town....)

But now that I'm back in graduate school, I'm wondering if it's possible to get addicted to that feeling, to the point that you keep seeking it out when it makes no sense.  Because that's what Literary Theory sometimes feels like to me.  The point seems to be to overturn everyone of your unconscious assumptions, every possible thing that you thought you knew.  And with good reason, for the most part.  It's good to examine your biases, and I appreciate the chance to do it. But now we're studying New Historicism, and it seems to have gone beyond examining your assumptions to a desire to turn things inside out just for the experience of looking at a poem (or novel or whatever) in a new way.  Just because.  Ooooh, shiny.  Is it bad? well, no, of course not.  But does it really make you a better reader of the poem?  Sometimes, but sometimes it just seems silly.  I'd give examples here, but I'm already boring myself to death.  enough on this topic.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Aug/Sept Reading Report

Coop- Michael Perry.  I read this one slowly.  I think I might actually have started it back in June.  It's terrific.  Part of the reason I found it so moving is that he is also a former fundamentalist (he was a "real" fundie, though).  So we have a lot in common.  But Coop isn't about his fundamentalist upbringing, although that comes up fairly often.  It's about a year of his life, living on a farm and raising chickens and pigs and a couple of kids, plus various building projects, like the chicken coop of the title.  I'm not normally a fan of nature writing--even though Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, I've never been able to get past the first chapter because she just seems so smug. Her writing is so beautiful and polished that it seems like showing off.  One suspects that I am jealous, yes?  But every time Perry started to veer in that direction, he'd make some sort of snarky, wiseass comment and pull it back.  I remember at one point thinking it was like reading a teddy bear, albeit a teddy bear with a snide sense of humor. When I finished reading this back in mid-August, I was going to devote an entire post to it, but now I can't remember what it was going to be about.  I think mainly I was impressed at his lack of anger at his upbringing.  I'm not exactly dripping with rage, but I think I'm far more resentful of the ways my religious upbringing warped my brain than he is (it's possible that is because he's male, so it wasn't quite as restrictive for him? although since my upbringing wasn't precisely fundamentalist-- again, this link-- it wasn't anywhere near as strict as his).  There's one moment toward the end where he mentions a rebellious phase he went through in his twenties, so maybe he just doesn't talk about it much.  Anywho.  Highly recommended. 

Turn of the Screw - Henry James.  This is a ghost story in about 115 pages.  You'd think it would have taken me an afternoon to read it.  But I had forgotten what it's like to read James.  It's like trying to walk through jello.  I didn't really get absorbed in it until about the last 20 pages, so it took several weeks to read.  It's a classic, and I think a lot of people read it in high school, but I never had.  If you don't mind lingering over sentences that unfold slowly in your head, almost blooming there, then by all means, read it.  But I think most modern readers (me!) will find themselves impatient with his style.  I wanted to read it because Crusie used it as the basis for her most recent novel........

Maybe This Time - Jennifer Crusie.  This has been out for a month or so, and I've been studiously avoiding reading reviews so I wouldn't read any spoilers.  But I did notice that it hadn't been getting universally glowing reviews.  So finally I sat down to read it last night, finished it today, then went back and read some of the reviews out there.  First of all, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Couldn't put it down.  It's based (see above) on the Turn of the Screw, so it is a ghost story that takes place in a big creepy house with some really creepy demented characters, both human and ghosts.  The setup:  Andie Miller goes to see her ex-husband North one last time before accepting her boyfriend's proposal.  North asks her as a personal favor to spend a month taking care of his wards-- two kids of whom he has guardianship after a cousin died-- and offers to pay her ten thousand dollars to do it.  The kids live in a rotting mansion in southern Ohio that a reclusive millionaire-type had moved over from England.  Andie arrives there to find that the house is haunted and the ghosts are tormenting the children.

The reviews often complain that the romance is neglected for the ghost story, which surprised me.  That would not have occurred to me-- it's clear right from the start that there is still a lot of chemistry between Andie and North and that they are going to end up together at the end.  Although they aren't together for the first half of the book, they think about each other so often and there are so many flashbacks to their brief marriage that it didn't seem to me that that part of the story was being neglected.  I did feel at one point that Crusie was waiting too long to bring North down to the haunted house, but I wasn't by any means disappointed at the lack of romance, as apparently many were.

There were also some complaints that Crusie didn't do the ghosts "right"-- as if there were a right and a wrong way to write about the paranormal.  I'm not a big fan of paranormal anything--I've read a few that were OK, but generally it's a turnoff for me.  So maybe that's why her version of ghosts didn't bother me at all--I haven't read enough other paranormal books to know how you're "supposed" to write a ghost.  I thought she handled that aspect of it pretty well, with a good mix of characters who were believers and skeptics, and a believable amount of wondering, is this really happening?  Even though I'm pretty skeptical about that type of writing, I thought within the context of the story she really made it work.

But there were definitely some problems.  It's fun to see cameos of favorite characters from previous books, but I think you have to make it work in the current book without reference to the other books.  And I don't think she did that.  She brings in Gabe McKenna from Fast Women and (presumably) Simon from Faking It to play fairly minor roles, so their characters aren't fleshed out at all.  I thought in both cases the role would have been better played by one of the many characters who is already in the novel--for example, when Gabe and North are searching the house, even while I was reading it I thought it should have been North's brother Sullivan who was with him.  It would have made much more sense, and would have cut out a superfluous character.

Oddly, the thing that bugged me the most wasn't mentioned by anyone else-- at one point, North gets a concussion, and he is up in the bathroom puking his guts out, while Andie just doesn't seem to care.  She totally ignores him while she wanders around doing other things.  What??  Even if she wasn't in love with him, it's just basic human decency to take care of someone when they're sick.  And it seemed especially harsh since he had just been pretty considerate of her when she was similarly ill.

Which I think ended up being what worked for me the least--Andie.  She was terrific with Alice, the younger of the two children she was trying to help.  But she's rude and dismissive of her mother at the beginning-- which you figure must mean that her mom is horrible, but it turns out that her mom is actually pretty cool.  and she's rude and dismissive to her boyfriend who becomes her ex-boyfriend halfway through-- her breakup with him is so abrupt and unfeeling that I just felt sorry for the guy.  (although I didn't blame her for being mad that he showed up after she asked him not to).  and when Kelly, a reporter, is possessed by a promiscuous ghost and sleeps with half the men in the house, Andie blows it off because she decides Kelly would have slept with them anyway.  and then she leaves North vomiting all alone upstairs after he's been injured.  She just seemed mean-spirited sometimes.

On the other hand, one of the things other reviewers mentioned most often as a bad thing-- Andie's "neglect" of Carter, the older of the two children-- didn't bother me that much.  For one thing, I have a son who is not particularly talkative, and if he wants to withdraw, the worst thing you can do is to try and talk him out of it.  You have to kind of go with it until he's ready to communicate.  Since Carter was actually in danger, maybe that doesn't apply here, but still, I think it made me more sympathetic to how Andie handled him than some others were.  But for another thing, I thought Crusie did a pretty good job of showing that Andie became aware of how wounded Carter is as the story progresses, and that paralleled the way she became aware of how North had been wounded.  It became part of the growth of the heroine. 

Overall, I enjoyed it.  It kept me completely absorbed all the way till the end.  There is plenty of Crusie's trademark humor.  And although Andie will never be my favorite Crusie heroine, she had enough good moments to balance out the bad. It's a good, fun read.  Recommended.