Thursday, January 28, 2010

"America" and "In the Baggage Room at Greyhound"

America by Allen Ginsberg was a strange poem, but I guess I have come to realize that everything Allen Ginsberg writes is going to be a bit odd. I'm not sure I really know what to think after reading this. I don't care for his writing because it doesn't seem to follow any logic. It seems like he threw as many random thoughts together as he could as long as they were somewhat tied to his idea of America. Perhaps when he wrote this he was high on the marijuana that he smokes every chance he gets as it says in the middle of page 40. It's very possible...some people seem to get philosophical when they smoke weed. Anyway, this poem was a bit hard to understand, not only because it was seemingly randomly strung together, but also because it had a lot of political references and references to things that were current events in 1956 when it was written. The number of things that I would have to research to understand what he was talking about in this poem was at least in the double digits...I counted. The overall tone of the poem is sarcastic and satirical. There are parts where he seems bitter and angry and parts where he just seems to be rambling. He starts out talking about himself and how America has gotten him nothing and all the things he hates about this country. He makes several references to the fact that he was brought up communist, which I suppose is why he doesn't like this country. Then in the middle of page 41 he says "It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again." Then he switches to America's point of view for the rest of the page. He abruptly switches back to himself at the top of page 42 and starts talking about his strophes. I suppose that is one way to describe his poetic style. On page 43, he begins to talk in a way that would suggest he is not fluent in English, like the perspective of a foreigner. He starts referring to things as Him and Her, leading me to believe that Her is Communist Russia, and Him is bureaucratic America. Then he asks for help as if he doesn't like the idea of either one of them. Like I said, I don't really know what to think about this poem.

In the Baggage Room at Greyhound made more sense, mostly because it was more of a story. There were still a few things I do not quite understand from it. The last line in particular is puzzling: "and built my pectoral muscles big as vagina". I don't really understand why he would say that because it really just doesn't make any sense to me. Perhaps he compares all vagina to a muscular set of pecs: strong and intimidating. Maybe that's why he is a homosexual. Although you'd think if you were a gay man who compared a vagina to a set of muscular pecs, that vagina would look pretty good to you wouldn't it? Anyway, apparently he used to work for Greyhound at a bus terminal and he is describing all of the things that he is seeing throughout the day. There is some deeper meaning involving the luggage racks and eternity and God and his thoughts, but I have read through it all about four times and I still can't quite get what he is trying to say. As he did so many times in America, he makes a reference to himself being a communist at the bottom of page 47. He is saying he works long and hard and doesn't have much to show for it...and I guess he thinks communism would change that. He should go live somewhere else and be a real communist rather than sit here and complain about how awful his life and this country are. His poetry and overall outlook on life are about as queer as he is. Sorry but I did not care much for these poems.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sonny's Blues

This story was really sad to me, and way too real. The narrator's life, and to an even greater extent Sonny's life, seemed to be characterized by a series of tragic events. They grew up in a bad area, fell in with the wrong crowd, their father died while they were young. Sonny got involved in a life of drugs that he didn't want to be a part of. They both tried to escape by joining the military, but inevitably returned. Their mother died while Sonny was still young. Before long their children were growing up in all of it, and they knew the children were going to have the same experiences they themselves had growing up. That more than anything would bother me. Then the narrator's daughter died a horrible death at a very young age. It just seemed like their whole lives were just one tragic event after another.

Towards the end of page 37 through the beginning of page 38, it seems the narrator describes his life and the life of everyone around him as a never ending story of poverty, tragedy and hopelessness. Its a cycle that makes people get trapped and make the same mistakes as those before them over and over again. Everyone is a part of it. No one can seem to escape it. Even when they get out, they seem to come right back like Sonny did. Because like it or not, its become who they are and they've got nowhere else to go.

This realization seemed to impact Sonny more than it did his older brother. The narrator seemed to be somewhat at peace with his life, as long as it did not concern Sonny. He seemed to know that he couldn't get out completely, but that he had done the best he could with what he had. He never got involved in the life that Sonny did, and he even said at one point that he supposed someone could say that he "got out" because he was a school teacher. He still lived in the same type of place, but he wasn't so involved in all the bad things that came along with it. The only thing he seemed to not be at peace with was Sonny's life. But I suppose that is okay. He was just playing the part of the older brother. They didn't have parents anymore, so he was the only real person Sonny had to look up to. And Sonny wasn't at peace with his own life, so I wouldn't expect his uptight older brother to be either.

Sonny never had much to rely on. He only really had his music. I thought it was ironic that his music was supposed to be his way out, but it was really what dragged him deeper into that life than he had ever been. The turning point came when he was living at Isabel's, practicing his music and he got into a fight with Isabel's mother. He realized then that nobody really cared about him and they were only taking care of him as a favor to his older brother. So he left, and once he was done with the military he made his inevitable return. By then he didn't fit anywhere except with the musicians. The heroin addicted musicians. By the end of the story, Sonny was as trapped within the musician part of his life as he was with any other part of his life. It was supposed to be his way out, and it only trapped him even more. No matter what he did, Sonny could not escape his life. It was just a sad story of tragic events and hopelessness.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Glass Menagerie (67-97) and The Catastrophe of Success

In Williams' essay The Catastrophe of Success, he describes a time in his life when he went from nobody to somebody in a very short time and how empty his life felt during this time. Now this is finally something that I feel like I can relate to! "But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation...that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door...". I don't think he could have said it much better. I have always wanted a certain kind of success for my life. I have always wanted security, to never have to worry about whether or not I will be able to afford the necessities of life. I want my kids to grow up in a world where they can have everything they need, and a little extra without me having to worry about how I am going to give it to them. But I have never wanted such a massive fortune that I wouldn't know what to do with it. I have never wanted to become rich beyond my wildest dreams. I believe I would start to feel like Williams did if I never had to work for anything again. I would feel lost and trapped by the very things that I had worked so long to achieve.

I agree with him when he says that man is built for conflict, that we were made to keep striving for that next level, the next plateau of meaning. I have always told myself that if I got rich, I wouldn't let it get to my head. I still want to be a normal person. I want to walk around in normal clothes, I want to have goals, I don't want people to wait on me hand and foot. Like Williams' reference to the hotel maid struggling with the pail of water, it sickens me to see someone who has all the means and ability in the world, but is too lazy to put them to use. I feel badly when I let people clean up my mess, when I know I have all the tools to do it myself. The world would be a much better place if the successful people in it didn't stop at success and kept striving for something higher. Think of the CEO's sitting on billions who do nothing but play golf with their clients for the rest of their lives. Think of the athletes worth millions who have all the fame in the world to call their own, and yet they just sit on it all and wait for the end of it. They could be giving. They could be using their fame to highlight worthwhile causes. They could all make big things happen with the wealth and fame they possess, but they don't. I believe success can bring out the worst in people, because all of their lives begin to lose meaning. They don't have anything to struggle for when human nature itself tells them they need something. And I hope I am never like that.

Now that all that is said and done, I did read the end of the Glass Menagerie as well. I just didn't find as much meaning in it as I did the Catastrophe of Success. This was not the ending I pictured for this play. It was a bit ironic to me that two people who were so obviously different (Amanda and Laura) could both be afflicted by the whole "the one that got away" scenario in different ways. They were different, the approach was different, but the outcome was the same. Amanda had many gentleman callers before she finally settled on her husband, but he apparently couldn't stand her and left. Laura is crippled and had only one gentleman caller, the one guy she had had feelings for in several years. Laura was a strange girl, with a personality that made Tom worry about the fact that not a lot of guys would be attracted to her. And yet that one person loved the person that she was. He still "got away" though because they were too late and he was already engaged to another girl.

Tom left for good just like I thought he would. And he apparently went off and found his adventure that he was always dreaming about. But he wasn't happy. "Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!" He missed Laura and did anything he could to stop thinking about her. He was restless in his life in St. Louis and he was again restless in his life of adventure. Perhaps he was looking for something that he would never find.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Glass Menagerie (3-66)

Perhaps it's just me being me again, similar to the poetry assignment a little while back, but I struggle to find much interpretive meaning in this play as I read. I have a hard time relating to these characters because nobody in my life has ever been like any of them. Nor do I know of anyone in Tom's situation, having to live day to day working a boring, dead-end job because its the only way to support his mother and sister, and coping with it by smoking and drinking and going out to watch movies all night.

Honestly, all I can really come up with are a few random interjections. For instance, I believe it would help to establish the mood if I ever knew what some of the music was that the author has playing at certain parts in every scene. Its one thing to look them up and know what they are, but I need to know what they sound like. Anyway, I noticed the "Glass Menagerie" music always seems to play when Laura is feeling sad or lonely like at the end of scenes 1 and 3. And it came up a few times, but I never really understood how Laura is crippled. I suppose the author never really says, but I am interested to know how. I also thought the author seemed to write almost from personal experience. He seems to add a lot of opinions into some of the scene introductions, and randomly throughout the play such as "one of those dreadful cloche hats that were worn in the late twenties" and "one of those cheap or imitation velvety-looking cloth coats with imitation fur collar" from the scene two introduction. Its almost as if he is recalling these events from his own memory.

I do think that if I were the father, I would have left Amanda too. All she cares about is money, appearance and social status . She is a typical southern bell, a debutante. And she loves to micro-manage Tom and Laura's lives. I had a friend growing up whose mother loved to micro-manage and it was about the most annoying thing in the world.

Scene 3 is particularly intense, but it highlights what made the father leave. Amanda is trying to live through Laura. She is so caught up in Laura going to school because she feels guilty that she didn't herself. Then when that doesn't work out she gets caught up in the need for Laura to come into money via a husband because that's what she tried to do, and maybe that is all she knows how to do. Unfortunately, Laura is the one who allows her mother to control her the most, but she is nothing like her mother. Tom is like his father, with the drinking and the need for adventure. He doesn't like his mother's controlling ways and all he wants to do is get out, and he declares that to Jim in scene 6.

I am interested to see the outcome of this play. I want to see if it all comes together the way I expect it to. I am foreseeing a few major epiphanies for some of the characters, but I guess that remains to be seen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

This story was good, albeit a little strange to me as it progressed. I liked the writing style of the author. He is very descriptive for every little thing, especially when describing the image of the movie within his head in the first paragraph, and the scene of the boardwalk and the beach. He uses some simile and a lot of metaphor such as "The moment before they (the waves) somersault, the moment when they arch their backs so beautifully, showing white veins in the green and black" on page 476 and "as if I were walking a tightrope one hundred feet over a circus audience and suddenly the rope is showing signs of breaking" on page 478. There are several other examples. These techniques combined with short, descriptive sentences makes the whole story more vivid and it actually feels real because you can clearly form a picture of it in your head. If I were a writer, this is how I would want to write.

So the story begins with the narrator watching a movie about the night his father asked his mother to marry him. And then at the very end, we find out it was all just a dream the narrator was having on the morning of his twenty first birthday. I feel like there was a lot of symbolism within the story, even in the small details. For instance, when the father was in the mother's house, the narrator was wondering where his uncle (his mother's oldest brother) was. He answered his own question by saying that he must have been studying for his final exams for college. So he was thought of in the story, but he was never in it. Then it says he had been dead from double pneumonia for 21 years. We find out at the end of the story that the narrator is waking up on his 21st birthday, so he obviously never knew his uncle. He knew about his uncle, but his uncle was never in his life, so he didn't get to be in the dream either.

I also like the part about the photographer. The narrator has an angry outburst in his dream about how nothing good will come of his parents marriage and they will only produce two children with monstrous personalities. Then, in the movie, the two parents try to get their picture taken at a photo booth on the boardwalk. The photographer puts them in pose after pose and takes picture after picture, but no matter what they do none of them come out right. I thought this was great symbolism for their marriage, and how the two apparently just aren't right for each other.

The end of the date was somewhat symbolic as well. The beginning of the date, and even on through dinner were good. It wasn't until the photo booth thing and the fortune teller that they got really mad at each other and the whole date fell apart. But before it can be resolved, the usher comes and takes the narrator out of the movie theater in the dream and it is finished. Symbolically, this could stand for the marriage as a whole. It starts out good, until they realize they are not right for each other (the photo booth), and the rest is nothing but fighting and neglect and each one not doing what they should be doing for the other. Perhaps it ended here because this is the point where the narrator's parents are when he wakes up on his 21st birthday. In the dream, the narrator doesn't get to see the end of the movie. Maybe that's because he hasn't seen the end in real life.

I also thought the usher and the old lady sitting with him in the theater had some symbolic significance. I thought maybe the old lady could be his mother, and the usher could be his father, although I don't have much to go on for that. The old lady was always there, and always telling him either that it was all okay, or warning him to calm down. She also consoled him when he was upset at least once. But she was always there to help him. The usher on the other hand came in momentarily every once in a while and only when there was a problem. At the end he had some words for the narrator, more than I would expect an usher to say to someone who they were kicking out of a movie theater. Basically the usher was only there for damage control. This would make sense if it stood for the narrator's father, because in the movie the father seemed to always be thinking about money, and his business and where it was going. He was always flashing his wealth by giving money to the younger uncle, or buying peanuts on the boardwalk or by taking her to the best restaurant. Perhaps the father was obsessed with his work, and never around. Yet the mother was always there to help. I guess it makes sense.

The story was good though, and it obviously had much deeper meaning than just a story about a dream.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alice Walker's "The Flowers" and Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl"

These two short stories shared one key thing: I thought I had them figured out, only to become more and more confused about them as I neared the end of each. The mood at the beginning of "The Flowers" was very lighthearted and care-free, very serene and happy. It took an abrupt turn when the girl found herself in an unfamiliar and gloomy cove. Then of course she came across the decaying body of a large man who had apparently been hung from a tree nearby. What I thought was weird was that she didn't seem to think it was that big of a deal to come across a dead body in the woods (she even began to pick a flower nearby after the discovery), until she saw the remains of the noose in the tree and around the body. The only reason I could think of to justify her sudden uneasiness was that she realized then that someone else must have hung the man. Perhaps in her happy-go-lucky world she lived in from the second paragraph onward, she couldn't imagine something like that happening and thought that the man must have died naturally or for his own reasons. Perhaps seeing the noose made her realize that he had died against his will and it had shattered her sense of reality and brought her spiraling back to earth. Which is why she then dropped her flowers and the summer as she knew it was over.

I also thought it was weird that the family allowed pigs to root on the banks of the spring where the family got their drinking water. I guess they probably wouldn't experience too much contamination, but the idea of it would still make me nervous.

Jamaica Kincaid's short story "Girl" was unlike anything I have ever read before. At first I assumed that each piece of information was advice given to her from her mother as she was being raised, and the phrases in italic were her occasional questions or interjections. Though as the story progressed I wasn't too sure. As the accusations of her desiring to become a slut became more and more common, I couldn't really imagine a mother telling these things to their own child, although I guess it is still possible. I began to think it might be a conversation going on inside her own head. Perhaps she was going over things she had learned growing up and her own conscience added in the "slut" references because she feels bad about the person she has become. After even more thought, I came to a different conclusion. The whole tone of the poem seems a little bitter, and even mocking. I finally came to the conclusion that she was the mother and everything that was being said was advice she was trying, or had already tried to pass on to her child. The constant "slut" references are things she is thinking, but probably not saying out loud, which would explain the bitter, mocking tone. And the italicized phrases are her child's interjections to the mother's teachings.

I tried to look up the meaning of a few words like okrbafar, "dasheen" and "doukona". Dasheen is a food, a tuber from China but I could not find the others. I guessed they were just other foods, okrbafar being something similar to okra and doukona being some type of dish, but I don't think they have much to do with interpreting the story, so I didn't delve too deep. I also looked for benna, which I took to be the name of a song after reading the story. All I could find was that Benna was the name of a recording artist, so I didn't think this had much to do with interpreting the story either.

At any rate, both of them presented sharp contrast from a normal story. In "The Flowers" the mood went from happy to gloomy to tense and uneasy within a few paragraphs, much faster than I am normally used to. In "Girl" the contrast was the difference in formatting and presentation of the story. Small, sharp sentences (mostly declarations) and the fact that there were no periods, which means no pauses anywhere. To me this gave the feeling that it was more a train of thought than an actual conversation, so I feel like she was recounting a conversation that had already happened within her head. This is much different from the dialogue that I am used to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Blog 2: Raymond Carver's Photograph of My Father In His Twenty Second Year"

Apparently I am not a poet, nor is it easy for me to appreciate, interpret or otherwise find meaning in certain works of poetry. Because of this, when I see a poem so short, so abstract, and so simple as Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro", I fail to find insight within any part of it. It is for this reason that I chose to write about Raymond Carver's "Photograph of My Father In His Twenty Second Year", which I can relate to a little more simply because it gives me more to work with than something as simple as a couplet. Poets really get famous from writing stuff like that? Two lines that are so vague and generalized that I might as well be reading my monthly horoscope? That blows my mind.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed about this poem was the sad tone in which it was delivered. That along with the way the author (because I assume it was about himself and his father) studied an old picture of his father made me think his father had just died. The author would then be looking at this old photograph to bring back old memories, or perhaps try to form a connection between himself and his father that he never had the opportunity to make before. Since he was sitting in an unfamiliar kitchen, I am assuming the photograph was not his because he would have gotten it from a family member or whoever the kitchen belonged to. And because it was not his photograph, I will assume that the author was not very close to his father, and had perhaps not been around him for a long time. He begins by describing his father in physical detail for a while. Judging by the last line, both the author and his father are alcoholics and the author seems to blame that fact on his father for whatever reason. He is also accusing his father for not being there for him and not teaching him anything. Apparently the author had some serious issues with his father/son relationship, but is upset because he never got to resolve those issues.

I have a hard time relating to this poem because my relationship with my father is nothing like this, but who hasn't seen this scenario before? If all my assumptions are correct, it would be hard to blame the author for the way he felt (although using his father as a scapegoat for his alcoholism is poor judgment if you ask me). My relationship with my father has been, for the most part, a healthy one my entire life, so I think I struggle to see the deeper meaning of this poem. But to me it seems like the author's father just died, and he is looking at an old photograph of him and remembering all the times his father wasn't there for him, while also blaming his problems on the fact that he didn't have the best relationship with his dad.

Letter of Introduction (continued)

So I'm not very familiar with blogging and I couldn't figure out how to edit an older post, so I'm finishing this one with a second blog.

Anyway, the pinnacle of development for my fantasy/science fiction novel came when I was a senior in high school. I had developed plot outlines for all three books in the trilogy and written 3 chapters of the first novel, a total of 46 pages. I was proud of how far I got and even passed out copies of the prologue to a few of my more scholarly friends to get their opinions on it. Then I went through a phase where I could not work on it for a while. About a year later I went back and read it, decided it was not good enough for me and it didn't hold my vision well, then deleted the whole thing. To this day I haven't written any more on it, but the ideas still remain fresh and ever changing in my mind. I've experimented with poems, but nothing too heavy and that's really about it.

Last but not least, I am a senior in Mechanical Engineering here at Clemson. So you are probably not surprised to know that I am only taking this class because I am required to, otherwise I would stay away from English courses altogether.

Letter of Introduction

I have always been the kind of person that cannot go too long without some sort of reading material, whether it be required reading or not. Usually I have a book that I enjoy reading (which I pick out myself) on top of the required reading for a course. I don't typically like the books that I am required to read in English classes, mostly because I find them dull and uninteresting, very boring, or maybe even depressing. In high school I usually read about 3 to 5 novels throughout a semester along with several short stories, poems, epic poems, or plays. Out of all these novels I can only remember a select few, which tells me that I did not enjoy the majority of them. Required reading that I actually like are few and far between, but there were a few I'm glad I got to read. For example, I loved Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. We dissected every book as a class in high school, and those in particular were enriched by analysis and it made me appreciate them more. I also enjoyed Night by Elie Wiesel (though it was somewhat morbid), Animal Farm by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the short story The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, and a play called Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. A few that I hated were: Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther (very boring, very depressing, way too eloquent for such a simple book) and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (this was our freshman required reading coming in to Clemson and it was just awful). I can't even remember anything else right now which must mean they didn't do much for me.

I tend to enjoy anything fantasy/science fiction related and I also have an interest in history, so you can probably see why I liked the books I did. As far as reading on my own, my favorites are the Harry Potter series (what self-respecting reader doesn't love Harry Potter?), the Inheritance Cycle (more commonly referred to as Eragon), and growing up I was really into the Redwall Series. I also loved the His Dark Materials Trilogy (Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, and Amber Spyglass); I think those deserve more credit than they get. When I was very young, I loved the Animorphs series and the Hank the Cowdog series, as well as a few random books like A Wrinkle in Time and Dragon's Milk.

I like to think of myself as a writer, and I can usually produce high quality, creative work when I put my mind to it. I would eventually like to become a published writer, but that will take a lot of time and effort, which I cannot spare at this time so it will have to wait until later in life. I love to write fantasy stories of my own, and have ever since I was a kid. When I was in fifth grade I won a required school wide writing competition. It was the kind where they give you a prompt to begin a story and you take it from there. Mine was "I woke up this morning and looked outside, and you'll never guess what I saw..." from which I came up with a story about a Godzilla-like monster attacking the city and how I saved the day. In eighth grade I won a similar required school-wide writing contest. The idea this time was "If you could go back in time and bring back any figure from history, who would it be and illustrate with a short story." Most people were talking about bringing back Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln and using them to solve a problem or invent something new. I deciding to tell a story about how I went back in time to bring back the caveman who discovered fire, and the fantastic adventure I had with him in the land of the dinosaurs. So you can see I always try to think outside the box a little bit. When I was in seventh grade, I begin developing ideas for a few novels I eventually want to write. Those ideas later developed into one that I think will actually work. In high school I continued to develop those ideas until I thought I was ready to begin work on a full science fiction/fantasy based trilogy. I began writing a book that took place in the future and involved alien invasions and otherworldly wars for power and prophecy.