Thursday, May 31, 2007

Grammarians Unite?

A very funny British woman decided to write a book about punctuation, which become the wildly popular Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I remember in one chapter Lynne Truss describes her urge to walk around with a giant red Sharpie correcting punctuation and grammar in signs, especially the apostrophe.

I occasionally have that same impulse. For example, today I was walking back from lunch and I noticed a sign that read "Stamped with Mamas Great Seal of Approval". Did you spot the missing punctuation? It's Mama's Great Seal, after all. People, I muttered to myself, have no sense of punctuation or proper uses of grammar.

Which leads me to the other half of my internal debate: should I get so caught up in others' improper use of grammar and punctuation? Do I side with the language purists who declare that English is going to hell in a handbasket (which apparently has been going on for centuries)--or do I side with the more moderate linguists who say "So? It's language. It's meant to change".

Sometimes I just don't know. Punctuation is a useful tool when employed properly, and I know that I can be confused by misplaced apostrophes or commas, or the lack thereof. The rules are not merely there to give a writer a headache and complicate their already difficult task; punctuation is useful to clarify, separate, and keep phrases where they belong. Remove the punctuation from the previous sentence, and you (my dear readers) would be confused. I would like then to separate the concept of language from punctuation, and spoken communication from writing.

Punctuation assists in clarifying writing in a way that is unnecessary in oral communication. Commas, periods, question marks, etc. provide the pauses, the emphasis, the lilt of speaking. We really cannot do away with punctuation, though in language we can come to accept the current use of "like" (instead of "as", for example, not as a random insertion that teenagers use). Punctuation is not as flexible as trends in language because punctuation fills a need that a different word cannot: it simulates spoken language.

I think in the matter of punctuation, I am going to side with Truss and the unbending grammarians: use it properly. Though I could probably survive if we forever dumped the who/whom distinction (subject/object pronouns!), I would likely perish if I could no longer use the colon or semicolon (don't even try to count how many I've used in this post alone). And the pesky apostrophe? I think we should keep it too. It tells me if people are possessing things instead of being plural, or if a word is a contraction. Terribly useful.

Do you think we should let the poor users of punctuation do away with our useful system? Where do you sit? And if you are obsessed with a piece of punctuation, what is it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Reading

Lance is gone this week, to Montana. Without him around, I suddenly find myself with a lot of free time (which I don't really understand, since we are not always doing things--a lot of times, we just eat dinner at home and hang out), but maybe it's free time to do solitary things, like reading. So I've been planning out my week with regards to reading. Last week I finished Night by Elie Wiesel,which was short but powerful. (I'm still working up to posting on it.)

Then I started One Perfect Day by New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead. It's really interesting. I'll post more when I've finished it, which will be soon since it's a quick read.

Two weeks ago, I read volumes 2-7 of the Sin City series. The last one (Hell and Back) was the best, I think. Or at least it contained the most admirable character of the whole series, and provided a wonderful ending to the series of novels. Miller also began adding color to the graphic novels (starting with That Yellow Bastard, where he made one character yellow). However, in the last one, when the main character is given some drugs that are meant to mess with his mind, the pages suddenly burst with color. When he returns to his normal mental state, the black and white pages seem darker than before. I enjoyed this whole series and look forward to seeing what Rodriguez does with the second film.

At some point, I need to start working on my homework. I have until next Thursday to read a short book and a few articles. I am taking a readings class (an independent study, essentially) on Genre Theory. I thought it would be interesting and a way for me to explore some of the areas of Rhetoric and Composition and see if it is what I want to study in graduate school.

It feels good to have time to read outside of my assignments for school.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Summer Readin'

In the flurry of the regular semester, I rarely get time to make a dent in the steadily increasing pile of Things I Should (and/or Want to) Read. But this summer, I am making an effort to read voraciously and widely. This past week, I polished off Oryx and Crake, The Namesake, and have almost completed Night (which I'll post about when I finish). The library has two more books awaiting me that I requested--one about the wedding consumerism culture (you might find it interesting, Kerry) and one about a woman who decided to go a year without buying anything unnecessary.

I used to read wildly during the summers, before I started working and schooling. Then, somewhere, I lost the ability to just read. Sit down with a book and read for hours. Part of it was the working and the schooling, part of it was also that I became much more social. But finishing two books this week made me feel good about my ability to still sit down and get through a book, even with the working and the schooling and the socializing.

I like it when I have an active reading life. My creativity and energy go up. I think more. I have more to talk about, and I can recommend books to others. It feels like something I should be doing, considering my future goals and all. And I really enjoy the satisfying feeling of finishing up a good book. It's like being thirsty and finishing off a tall glass of refreshing water, when you say "Ahhhh" and smack your lips with contentment.

What are you all currently reading?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anybody Out There? (ORYX AND CRAKE)

Oryx and Crake, a novel by Margaret Atwood, is one created in the familiar vein of a post-apocalyptic, ravaged world with its survivors meting out a stifled existence. Only this story involves Snowman, perhaps the last human being, left to guard a created humanoid tribe and with his memories of his two loves, Oryx and Crake.

Atwood plunges her reader in the midst of this world, a land full of the decaying skeletal remains of humanity, its triumph and its ruin. Now Snowman and previously Jimmy, the narrative shifts between the two iterations of one individual. Jimmy's genius best friend Crake and his "one true love" Oryx figure as the main characters in a world that reflects our own gradual creep--or perhaps deliberate movement?--into despair, corruption, and ruin. Rich scientists experiment with creating new life forms, anything from deadly viruses (bioforms used as weapons) to creating spliced animals, rakunks (raccoon and skunk), wolvogs (deceptively friendly wolf-dogs), pigoons (pigs engineered to grow human organs), and others. Crake works to create a new type of human, one without the impulses within us that lead to war, misery, and destruction so they can live without the same sexual misery, warfare, and religious anxieties that plague humanity currently.

There is an uneasiness to Atwood's description of the world, both in the easy acceptance of humans ability to play God, and sometimes the character's reactions to this meddling, especially as the meddling is done by corporations seeking to profit off of the desire to live forever, to cease to age, to be in a state of bliss. This tampering eventually leads to Snowman's creation and isolation, the Crakers he is asked to guard too simple and different to understand his condition.

Snowman makes a journey to the past and back, both back to his personal past and the place where he last sees Oryx and Crake, and the novel ends ambiguously as he finds that he is not the last of his kind, and stands poised to either greet them or destroy them. Perhaps Atwood leaves his future--and implicitly ours--in the hands of her reader, but the effect is powerful. Our world cannot continue on its current path and her dystopian vision is terrifying because of its feasibility. The novel's conclusion could serve to give us hope that we are not doomed--or it could assert that human nature will always keep us on our same, flawed track.

Erudite, interesting, and a little horrifying, Atwood recalls the same power of storytelling as The Handmaid's Tale, though perhaps not to the same effect. While Oryx and Crake lacks some of the narrative strength as her previous work, it nevertheless accomplishes its goals: to tell a story about a world that could be ours someday and fill readers with a mixture of hope and dread, and ask us to question our present reality.

Monday, May 21, 2007

7 Random Things

I was tagged by my penpal, Kris, to post seven random things about myself. I'm never much good at these, but in the spirit of the tagging, I may as well post something (mmm, good post fodder anyway). So here goes:

1.) When I read, I often talk out loud about what I'm reading if someone is in the room. I'm not really talking to them, though. I'm simply verbalizing my thoughts, which helps me think. Part of it ends up being an attempt to include them in my thought processes, which often baffles the person I'm including because they don't realize what I'm doing. Lance has become accustomed to my odd habit, and I get a way to think.

2.) I use lots of cinnamon. Most people simply use it when baking, but I tend to add it to my coffee grounds in the morning, dump huge quantities in anything I'm baking/cooking, and otherwise plow through a sack of cinnamon in a short period of time. I'm almost the same way with ginger. I have some ginger jelly that I put in anything from oatmeal to a peanut butter sandwich.

3.) I use some phrases that confuse people. One is "toasted cheese sandwich", which apparently is supposed to be called a grilled cheese. Whatever. A new one is "peanut butter half". I said that one a few days ago, and my co-workers were confused: what is a peanut butter half? they queried. In case you didn't know, it's when you take one slice of bread, slather it with peanut butter (and sometimes honey or jelly), fold it in half, and consume. Peanut butter half. I picked up this and the other weird phrases from my family.

4.) I make random connections between books that I'm reading, music, shows I'm watching, etc. I guess that's what makes me a good analyzer of literature--the ability to make connections. I was relieved when I figured out this was a good skill to have in academia, and can often lead to some good research topics. Though, some roll their eyes at my more obscure connections, like that episode of Dr. Who I just watched last night and the book I just finished by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake. (Nerd, they whisper).

5.) I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. I just saw Music and Lyrics, and loved it. I know that I should have tastes, but I love watching that genre. Of course, if it's an awful film, I won't watch it. And sometimes when I go back and re-watch one, I realize how sort of shallow it was, like Love Actually. (Almost no character development. But still some entertaining bits). I still enjoy them, however, to the chagrin of Lance.

6.) I'm a crafty, creative person who has a desire to learn more things. This desire manifests itself in wanting to sew more, learn new knitting techniques, read non-fiction, etc. I love learning; I love learning new things. It's a random bit of myself that connects my personal life to my academic life--my desire to know. I hope that it never goes away because it is such a pleasure to want to learn, and then to do so.

7.) I'm sort of a mockingbird. Meaning, when I listen to people talk, I tend to pick up their phrasings and ways of speaking and use them (if I like them), or if I'm reading, I'll often write, think, or talk in the style of the author. (Right now I'm reading The Namesake. I read for several hours yesterday and found myself thinking in her short, crisp style.) It's random and weird, so there you go.

I guess I can tag some people. Amanda, Kerry, Justin, Samantha, Kathryn, Amber, and're up.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poem: A Contest

I'm participating in a Knitter's Coffee Swap (knitting AND coffee, yesss). The hostess has been giving us contests to participate in, and the last one was titled "Still Life With Coffee and Yarn", and was to feature a photo (or a poem) involving the two.

Since I didn't have a camera at that point (I just got one), I wrote a little poem and submitted it to the contest.

Then this morning I discovered I had been selected as a winner!

I was just so excited that my poem won, that I decided to share it here. I'll let you click the link to view the poem. It's cutesy, but it does some of the same things I described in my post yesterday (convey a feeling, etc).

I love winning contests!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Poetics (Mine)

Poets have different goals. Some write to be satirical (Alexander Pope or John Dryden), some write to thwart traditions (Shakespeare's sonnets), some write for reasons only they know. Sometimes the same poet has different intentions, depending on the poem--Alexander Pope is the author of both the wildly satirical Rape of the Lock and the more weighty philosophical The Epistle on Man.

Lately, I've found myself with the same idea in mind as I compose poetry. When I write a poem, my main goal is to convey some feeling with words. If you read the poem from yesterday, you may notice that when I'm describing rain, I use several words that begin with S and end with -ing. My intention was to give the feeling of motion, of rain moving wildly and energetically. When someone reads my poem, I want them to feel the movement of the rain, to visualize rain, and to allow that to transport them into an experience of the poem.

The same theme is repeated in the second stanza. I hoped to inspire a visualization of gray sky, rain, and sidewalks suddenly broken with a brilliant red umbrella. Then people also break the plane of motion by disrupting the downward fall of water with their horizontal movement. Even though they are inside shelter, out of the falling rain, they still are "raining" as the water drips off of them.

The final stanza was meant to convey my situation: I was sitting in a coffee shop reading when the storm suddenly struck. There was lightning, there was thunder. But I was cozy and observant. The final lines of calm form a tension with the kinetic energy of the rest of the poem, which I like. I could move it to the beginning and start the poem off with that tension, but I preferred the feeling of plunging in--you, the reader, are dashing in from the storm toward my place.

Here's the fun thing about analyzing your own poetry: ideas and feelings I got when reading the poem, I pretended I actually consciously thought about all of it. However, the truth is probably I only had a vague notion that I wanted to convey feelings of motion; all other meaning formed as I wrote about it. So does that make analysis pointless? Not really. I created meaning out of my own poem that I truly believe is there. Another reader might create some other, similar meaning from their own experience.

This is not a license for wild interpretation, though. You can't put something into a poem that is not there, in the language. You notice I didn't pretend that the tension was reflective of a conflict with my mother, though some might argue that "rain/nature" equals "mother", which you possibly could get away with as a psychoanalytical approach, maybe. If anything, the tension is reflective of indoor/outdoor distinctions. Not a conflict, per se, but rather a relationship. If I were analyzing this poem as a scholar, I would probably take into account that the author (myself) is interested more in the relationships between opposing forces, not necessarily the conflict (even though conflict is often the center of a relationship). Perhaps I (as the scholar) would conclude that the author's intent was to create tension between the wild outside and the calm inside to demonstrate how the two are compliments of one another. The heavy rain would not be so "merry" and full of "wild joy" if the author was not safe inside observing it.

Anyway, just some thoughts on interpretation. As someone whose job it is to analyze literature, it is difficult to toe the line between feasible interpretations and just making something up. Hopefully I tend away from the "just making something up" (also known as the "it's about God, death, or sex" interpretation). This is a personal conflict I've dealt with on here before, and will likely deal with again...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Summer Downpour

An absolute downpour
Opening up the Heavens and letting it rip;
The rain comes gushing down,
Rolling and flowing,
Striking and slipping,
Sinking into an earth that holds her hands out merrily.

A red umbrella breaks the grey. People
dash and dart, ducking into shelter,
the water rolling off of shiny damp skin, hair limp,
and clothes clinging

Then the lightning splits the sky, the thunder rumbles with wild joy.
And here I sit, cup of chai and book in hand,
enjoying a lusty summer storm.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Graduation Ritual

The university I work for held their commencement ceremonies last week. I got to work during it, which wasn't too bad (I got to say congratulations to some of the students that I knew from working with them. And I get comp time).

Setting up for and working at the commencement got me to thinking--I could officially walk in next year's ceremony. Depending on the courses that are offered, I could finish up in the summer of 2008 and have my MA in English. A little frightening, no?

I'm looking forward to another ceremony, though. I'm intrigued by rituals and ceremonies in our society, especially the ones that still have the outward trappings though little of the meaning. Or ones where the old forms take on new meanings for the ritual's participants. Graduation is one of those things. Even if I did it just two years ago, I want to walk down and be hooded. I like the thought of being distinguished from undergrads. Most of all, it's sealing the completion of something in my life, a ritual ending and conclusion to one stage, and the beckoning of another.

Perhaps that is why we cling to certain, seemingly meaningless rituals in this postmodern era. We may have forgotten the history and deep meaning of old traditions, but they still bear significance and meaning for the participants, even if it is meaning they create for themselves. Earning a degree just wouldn't seem quite as powerful or important if it weren't accompanied by the ritual of wearing a gown and walking across a stage to receive a diploma. Some people say they don't care, but I most certainly do. And next May, I'll be walking proudly to the cheering of my family and friends, wearing a goofy hood down my back, and accepting my empty diploma holder so I can enact that ceremony once more.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Grades: An Added Bonus

Bonus Post!

I got my grades in today. Quite nice. Of course, I had to laugh at myself for my overeagerness to know what I earned--even though I was fairly certain that I did well--but there is something about actually seeing the grades on the screen that is calming and reassuring. I've always liked making good grades, and it was only in the semester that I decided I would settle for a B in a class that I learned that they didn't really matter much.

Not too much, anyway, because they are still influential factors in my life. I like seeing an A at the end of my assignments, the confirmation that I am intelligent and capable. We've been discussing the grading system and how it makes unreasonable demands of certain types of students. Do we have a better way, however, to assess student learning? Shevek in LeGuin's The Dispossessed abhors the grading system when he is on Urras, so he decides to give all the students the same grade because he sees them as arbitrary anyway. The students protest: how are you to separate the good students from the mediocre and poor ones?

Is that what our current system does? Does it provide a ranking system of students who meet the teacher's expectations and the ones who do not? In that case, can grades be a true assessment of student learning? What about the students who do not thrive in a system that is competitive and driven by this arbitrary structure? Can we find a place for them without crushing them?

Grade inflation is a worry among universities, but I read a retort: if most students at elite universities are not making high grades, wouldn't that be more cause to worry than the fact that most students score highly? Is it truly grade inflation then? Do we need a system that dictates only a certain percentage is capable of high achievement?

Even as all these questions pepper my mind, I still feel the calm, glowing satisfaction of having my hard work arbitrary rewarded by a certain letter--A--and a certain number--4.0. Is that bad? Or am I just one of those students who thrives under the current grading system?

Prose: Realizations

I'm sitting in the middle of the coffee shop, surrounded by people, and I think to myself My brother is a jerk.

Now, I don't think of myself as being a jerk. I am occasionally to my darling boyfriend, but then I apologize and we make out. And I don't like to think that I hang out with jerks. It just so happens that I am related to one, and this jerk is the form of a almost-six-foot-tall stocky Marine. He has tattoos winding around his left arm, his hair is in the high-and-tight standard Marine style, and his mouth spouts Marine-isms, punctuated with the word 'fuck'. He also has the standard military issue fear of homosexuals, or really, anyone who is different from himself.

The night begins: I was to cook dinner for he and his wife. Suddenly, his friends are coming along, and he didn't bother to tell us, and then his wife decides that she'd prefer to eat out. And he didn't bother to tell me until I called him when I got off of work--he'd 'forgotten' that I had told him my plans a scant 4 hours before.

This was the inkling of my realization that my brother is a jerk. Annoyed and a little hurt, I told him to just bring along his friends, and we'd go out to eat. Then we chose a most delicious hole-in-the-wall sort of place, The Cajun Gypsy. (They have probably the best Cajun food in our area). My sister-in-law loved it, trying all the foods we ordered. My brother sulked. Then we thought we'd go out for drinks, but because we weren't drinking to oblivion or playing pool but just hanging out and chatting, it was 'boring'.

The final incident which clinched the realization that my brother was a jerk was in the way he treated a dear friend of mine. This friend came along because I hadn't seen him all week, and I wanted to hang out with him more. My dear friend is one of the kindest, most generous people I know--and my brother treated him like dirt. And why did he treat him thus? Because he believed my friend was gay.

The realization was all mixed up in my head, with anger and love and pain on the part of my friend. He knew that my brother was being a jerk; he saw how he was ignored. Even my brother's marine buddy was friendly toward everyone. And I was left sitting in my chair, sipping my thankfully-spiked coffee, wondering how I ended up so differently from my brother. From the rest of my family for that matter. I don't think it was just college: there must be some fundamental difference of being. I'm not sure what.

But I do know this: while I love my brother to death, he is a jerk.

Additional note: Shortly after posting, I received a call from my brother. He said, "Hey, I just realized that I was being a huge jerk last night and I wanted to apologize". Huh. Maybe there is hope for him.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What is the Novel For--Salman Rushdie, Cont.

At the end of the first post on Salman Rushdie, I promised to summarize his points on what the novel is for. What is it for? Some would say that novels are nothing but rubbish--they certainly did when novels came to being in the 19th century--while others would fight for their legitimacy as important works of art and vital to understanding the human condition.

Rushdie, however, takes a less specific--or rather, a less definite--track on this question. What is the novel for? It's not a moral question, he argues, nor is it about having answers or solving problems. Really, the most important aspect of a novel is to ask questions rather than pose answers. For it is the complicated questions that survive--why do you think we are still reading Shakespeare? He poses complex questions and often arrives at no answer. Susan Sontag is a theorist who described a story as a journey; and that's the point of a novel, is the journey not any answer it might offer.

Shifting to global implications of his question, Rushdie wondered aloud if perhaps it is a luxury to talk about the novel in this way. However, he believes that even in a place where so much hinges on daily life, it is important to maintain the space for intimacy, for human activity: to maintain the possibility for love in a combat zone. Literature, he said, can look to that which is not affected by outside circumstances.

He brought in the examples of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, who used humor and comedy to deal with dark and dangerous situations: war, death, etc. Rushdie described them as writers who use language to aim lightness at the darkness. Literature is often used to insist upon seriousness in a time of frivolity, and it is important for literature to insist on serious things, even within a comedy. And the works of Vonnegut and Heller do this.

Literature defines a period. Writers can even replace history as the truth, which is a very dangerous aspect of literature, but one that conveys the power it can wield. Looking backwards, literature tells who we are, just as Huck Finn defines the American identity.

Next post: Finishing up--Literature and worlds

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beware the Big Bad...Grammar?

I've been encountering this a lot lately: people find out that I'm an English person, and suddenly they're commenting that they need to watch how they talk or act embarrassed about their writing. Things of that nature. I didn't used to get that quite as much, but ever since I started my MA program (meaning that my answer to "What do you do?" has changed), I've been getting a lot more of it. But why?

I always smile a little and hurry to reassure the worried party that I am in fact NOT judging their writing or their speaking. (Well, part of my is analyzing their writing and speech, but I tuck that bit away). But here's the deal--why would I critique the way someone speaks? That's just plain rude. I'd hate for someone to start criticizing my eyebrows. And that's what language is--it's a part of us, part of who we are, and part of our appearance. I don't correct grammar (for the most part--usually it's people who I know would want to say things properly, or I'm dating/related to them) because that would be like telling someone their eyebrows are weird.

Everyone speaks proper English--just not SAE (Standard American English), which is the dialect that They selected as the paragon of spoken English. Here's the deal--almost no one speaks SAE. If they say they do, they lie. I say "y'all" a lot, as well as some non-standard phrases, but they are still correct. The listener understands what I am saying.

Anyway, I might occasionally mock bad writing, but usually it is in the context of that person being a professional writer--and doing it horribly. I would never dare to tell someone that is writing for enjoyment or fun that they are punctuating improperly or that they really should capitalize. I can grumble about it to myself, but I would never tear another human being down in such a way. How we speak and write is an intrinsic part of our selves--and probably why people get so nervous when they hear that I am an English MA student. (I wonder: do they suddenly see me as taller? As brandishing a red pen? Or thumping a yardstick?)

It's a weird balance to strike. Just as I have to separate my critical self from my sensibilities that might be outraged by a work of art (Kant!), I have to separate out the part of myself that wants to "fix" writing and grammar and realize that it's better to just let people be free to express themselves. I would never want to be the cause of a loss of self-expression and freedom.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Thinking Blogger Awards (finally!)

A while back (a long while, okay?) I was tagged for a Thinking Blogger award by the Secret Knitter. And I was, of course, honored, flattered, and felt really good about myself. He says:

It's good to see Jenn writing more regularly. She shares her grad school homework assignments, creative writing, and personal observations in a fun little blog.

I partly think he's trying to encourage me to write more, but nevertheless. I've been feeling guilt stings as the other recipients have passed out their awards...and then their awardees have in turn passed out more. (You probably get the picture). Here are the rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

All right--so many to choose from. I'd nominate Union, Trueheart, and Courtesy--but Donna has already been named multiple times (and she's quite deserving of the mentions). And Secret Knitter tagged me, so I'm guessing tag backs aren't allowed.

So here are my choices:

Kathryn's Blog--Kathryn is a good friend of mine and has recently been exploring the world of yoga. I enjoy reading her blog; she reflects on her practice and the challenges she faces in yoga as well as other interesting bits. It's a great read--and a good motivation for me to try to form my own yoga practice.

A Dress a Day--I love, love, love this blog. I discovered it when I first moved over to Blogger (it was a notable blog) and have been reading it ever since. I love how she blends her passion for dresses and her talent for writing. She writes about interesting dresses, dresses she's made, dresses she wants to make, and all the fabric that would make you drool. Interesting stuff.

ADAllen--Amanda may not write much...but when she does, it is consistently interesting and think-worthy. She writes about her academic interests as a graduate student in Student Affairs (sorry, I don't remember the official program name!)

The Slacktivist--Maybe it's because he quotes John Donne in his header. Maybe it's because he writes smart and insightful posts. Quite possibly it's because his criticism of the Left Behind series is both sharp and intelligent. All I know is that I enjoy reading his posts as he demonstrates that being on the left side of politics and a Christian are not incompatible--and he works in his own way to counter the perceptions of Christians of hard-nosed, Bible-thumping, condemning folks by showing the other side of faith.

And just for kicks, Domesticat. It's a knitting blog, but the author takes wonderful pictures and writes fun and witty posts. I enjoy reading it, and it makes me want to knit beautiful things and think about knitting...Most recently I participated in her letter swap...and made at least one new friend!

Now off to tag the recipients!

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Amazing Salman Rushdie, Pt 1

It was my pleasure to have the opportunity to see Salman Rushdie, live and in person on April 18th. It was even better than seeing Amy Tan at the FPL (which was pretty cool--she's a funny lady). This post will be dedicated to his talk, which was wonderful and lovely and interesting. This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to summarizing his talk, and then maybe me talking about his talk.

His talk was titled "The Role of the Writer in the 21st Century", a topic that he called an old chestnut, but on e that needs to be addressed. He began by telling a story about Saul Bellow: Bellow was once asked why American writers had abdicated their responsibility to write against the power of America, to criticize and to call attention to abuses of power. Bellow's answer was that "We don't have obligations, we have inspirations"; thus, we cannot prescribe to a writer what he or she should write--and the role of the writer is that there is not one. Each writer must strive to be the writer that he or she can be.

He then moved on to the question: What does literature do? It pays attention, was his answer, it looks at the lives of the individual. Rarely does a book actually affect the world (a book like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin might be an example, since it sparked the abolitionist movement and the Civil War in many ways). But for the most part, literature doesn't cause great changes, but through reading a book and loving a book, both the reader and the writer are changed in some small, unpredictable way. So books can change the world, but only one reader at a time. Literature is about the unexpected, about the inevitable because after all, what is expected is boring. Dull. And books that deal with the improbable are infinitely more interesting to read.

Literature, however, is not about how things are going to turn out. Writers don't know the future. He told a funny story about a man--Gary from Michigan--who would send letters (the same exact letter) to writers asking them if they thought civilization was going to survive as it currently existed. Most dismissed him as a dealer trying to get an famous author's signature. However, Angela Carter decided to write him back and told him "Yes, civilization will survive as we know it". He never wrote back again. But the point of the story was that writers are not indicators of the future; they are firmly planted within their time. For example, George Orwell's 1984 was not about what would happen in 1984--it was about what was going on in 1948 that frightened him. Rushdie concludes this point by saying that literature is in danger if it tries to tell you what's going to happen. That's just not what it is about.

Next post: So what is the novel for?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

To Kris--

(about the Knitters Letter Swap)

Have you gotten my letter yet? I sent it last week. I don't know how long it takes to get over there. But I wanted to let you know that I loved your letter and that I did write you back. And do you have a blog? I'd love to read it, and I'm glad to know that you read mine...

Anyway, just checking on things.

I promise to post real stuff later. My final paper is due today, and then I'll be done with the semester. So look forward to posts about my contemplations on what PhD program I think I'd like to explore, Salman Rushdie!, and all the books I hope to read this summer.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Joining the Texters...

Damn. I did it--I signed up for text-messaging on my phone. Not entirely by my own choice, mind you, but I figured that if people insisted on sending messages to my phone, then I may as well make it apart of my cell phone plan so that I don't get angry every time I receive a message on my cell phone...

Anyway, I don't know what to think of it. I can understand the convenience of being able to text someone (you're in a meeting or class; you need to let someone know something quickly), but at the same time, we managed before without texting.

It's at times like these that I feel like an old, curmudgeonly Luddite.

My other objections to texting include text spam (which I've received), and the horrible use of spelling and punctuation in texting. But...those things exist on the Internet, and I still use it. So I'm going to try out text messaging for a month and see if it's worth the extra five bucks. If not, see you later texting.

Please don't judge my joining as indicative of my plans to become a frequent and misguided texter. I'll just use it like any other technology--because it's fun and (might) make my life easier. Maybe.