Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stop-Go Analysis

First things first: taking out The Music of Chance helps lighten the load a bit and I admit I'm glad that you decided to do it.

GO (I like this):

I like the syllabus structure for this course. Its different than anything I have had before. I like the idea of the blog, because it is a good way to put time and effort into the course, but on our own time and schedule. It makes it more flexible, while still requiring us to keep up with the work and readings. I also like the amount of extra credit we can get out of the blog, because it gives us a chance to exempt the final and I hate finals. I may be singing a different tune when that research paper comes around, but for right now I am enjoying the course structure. The quantity of work is good, mostly because you can choose how much of it you want to do, and I feel like the quality is the same way. If you want to write a one point blog, you just spend less time on it. But if you want full credit for a blog, you need to take your time and cover all the bases. That's how I like it. I can go at my own pace. My favorite readings so far have pretty much all been short stories I think. I liked "River of Names" because it was just so jaw-dropping. "Emergency" was enjoyable, and I liked Alice Walker's "The Flowers" and Tennessee William's "The Catastrophe of Success", but my favorite was probably "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities". Glengarry Glen Ross isn't bad either. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I am also very appreciative that there are no tests. I like the group discussions too. They help get me into the right frame of mind. They make the wheels start to turn. I would normally enjoy the open forum based discussion, but it is admittedly awkward in our class for some reason. I for one don't feel particularly comfortable speaking in this class, and I'm not usually like that. I guess it would be better if more people talked, but its hard to get that to happen if people feel uncomfortable. I'm not really sure why its awkward, but it is.

YIELD (things we should do more often):

The first thing I think we should do more of is movies in class. I've enjoyed it the few times you've done it because I never get to watch movies in my classes, so its an enjoyable and somewhat rare experience for me. I also like reading something and picturing it in my head, and then comparing what I saw in my head to the movie version the next day. A lot of times a movie version will allow me to look at something differently than I did, or call something else to my attention that I wouldn't necessarily have seen before. I also like the short stories that we read. I think they are a lot easier to handle. A lot of times I cannot commit to reading/blogging in the middle of the week because I have so much work to do for my major. I end up having to catch up later either before I blog the second time, or on the weekend. Sometimes I have to resort to skipping a section and reading it after blogging on the third section, so I have to spend a good bit of time figuring out what is going on. It ends up being choppy and I think it ruins my experience for the books. The short stories are so good though because they can be concluded in a single reading. They also hold my attention much more easily. So I am a fan of the short stories.

STOP (please, no more!):

I could go my entire life without having to read another book like Lolita. There is a lot to the book, no doubt, but it is not the easiest read. And the content within it is just disturbing and disgusting. I don't enjoy reading a story chronicling several years out of the life of a kidnapping, murdering, repulsive, child rapist. Call me crazy but it is not the kind of story content I enjoy. I didn't like reading it, I didn't really want to know what was going to happen next, and I had to force myself to pick it up and read it in small doses. It just wasn't an enjoyable experience, and that disappoints me because I generally like to read. I'm also not a fan of poetry, though I can understand not eliminating them altogether because some poems are good. I just haven't liked any of the ones we've read. But the reason I don't like them is because I usually have a hard time reading between the lines. Poems are probably some of the last pieces of reading to take literally and a lot of times I can't seem to get much out of them but that. I mentioned it a little earlier too, but I don't like research papers, and it is my understanding that we have to do one later. I'm sure nobody really likes research papers, but again I can understand making us do one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Glengarry Glen Ross (9-78)

This play is interesting, it kind of reminds me of the type of movie Tarantino would direct: a lot of dialogue and back and forth banter. Some of it is kind of hard to understand because they interrupt each other so much, its hard to get the gist of what they are saying. I also feel like there isn't much to talk about because nothing really happens in the scenes. They just sit around and talk for a while about the same thing.

In Act one, scene one Williamson and Levene are having a heated discussion over dinner. Levene is begging Williamson to give him a shot at some leads, because Levene isn't selling much right now and is in danger of losing his job. At first I thought Williamson was just being a jerk and flaunting the fact that he is doing well and Levene isn't. But as the scene goes on, I started to think maybe Levene is a smooth talking swindler and a freeloader. Because he starts saying he'll give him the money later, when I get the feeling Williamson knew he didn't have it all along. He may have just told him he'd give him the leads for a steep price to get Levene off his back about it. Levene also went to dinner with Williamson after conveniently leaving his wallet back at the hotel. Thats a little underhanded and sneaky as well. I don't trust Levene, he seems a little desperate to me.

In act one, scene two Moss and Aaronow are eating in a restaurant and trash talking the people that I suppose are their bosses. They are talking about similar things as the two gentleman in scene one. I guess the whole awards incentive thing at their workplace has gotten everyone in an uproar. Then Moss starts trying to convince Aaronow to break into the office and steal the leads that night. He says he has found a buyer for the leads and plans to make some money off of them and then go work with that guy. He promises Aaronow the same cut, but then tells him he has to do the dirty work. Then he lets it slip that he is actually going to be making a bigger cut without much of the risk. I don't trust this Moss character either. He seems like he would do anything to get his piece of the pie. And Aaronow better be careful or Moss is going to throw him under the bus and take all the reward for himself. As a side note, when Moss starts talking about indians on page 29 and he says they've got a grapevine, it reminds me of where I live here in Clemson. Every year without fail a ton of indians live in my apartment complex. A bunch move out and then a bunch more move in. They definitely have a network or something because I feel like most of the indian population in Clemson leaves in my apartment complex. I just thought that was funny.

Scene three is really short and it is basically Roma's outlook on life rolled up into a couple of pages. I thought it was interesting how each scene in Act one has two people in it, and it was always the same: one is an aggressor and the other is reluctantly submissive. So far the only aggressor i haven't completely disliked is Roma, but we'll see how long that lasts.

Act two is back at the real estate office after it has been robbed by Aaronow, although it does not specifically say that Aaronow did it. A detective named Baylen is snooping around looking for clues and interviews. This part is weird because I'm not entirely sure of what is going on. Aaronow is acting oddly because he seems to only be worried about whether the leads were insured. If he stole them I'm not really sure why he would care so much, maybe he feels bad for the people he has screwed over if he stole the leads. Roma is freaking out about his contracts being stolen because he thinks he is supposed to win the Cadillac after his last sell. And the whole while Baylen is snooping around. Then Levene comes in and starts telling them he sold 8 units with the lead Williamson gave him and made a ton of money off of it. Moss is there too, but I don't really know what he is talking about, but he does start telling everyone off and says he is leaving for Wisconsin. Then Williamson, Levene and Roma start talking back and forth for a while, and our reading ended in the middle of the Act. I don't care much for the fact that there aren't any stopping points in act two. And I don't understand how they could make a full length movie out of this play, because I feel like it would take no time at all to play through all this dialogue.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dorothy Allison's "River of Names" and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

"River of Names" by Dorothy Allison is just about the most awful story I have ever read. You always hear the stories and jokes about the backwoods rednecks in the south, but I've always thought that those stories were more made up than real. Reading this just shows that its not all made up, and its definitely not very funny. That one family could be so large blows my mind. She claims at one point that there are over 100 children and cousins at one time. That is just ridiculous. No wonder their family had so many problems, they were just breeding like cockroaches under a rock. None of the kids ever really had an identity of their own from the rest of the family. They never had any attention to themselves, because there was probably just another one of them coming along every few months it seemed. Some of the parts almost made me angry to think about. Some of it made me think "how stupid could they be". Its like they just did whatever the first thought in their heads told them to do without even bothering to think of the consequences. And unfortunately for them and the rest of the family, the first thought in most of their heads was usually violent. What kind of inbred idiot would think to light a match and throw it at Butch after he had been huffing gasoline? "I'll teach you" they thought. That's all it took in their family to kill someone. One idiot with a careless thought. And what kind of a father would pick up their young child and use them as a weapon to fend off their other children? Little Bo was brain damaged for the rest of his life because his father was willing to do anything to get away from his other two sons. She talk's about the one time her cousin wanted to wrestle with her and Lucille. And they wouldn't fight back because they knew if they did that one of them would get killed. They would be the product of one more stupid relative that acted without thinking. Equally as sad was that the only alone time they ever seemed to get with an adult from their family was when they were being raped by them.

It was sad and disgusting and tragic and pathetic that it could get that bad. To live in that family would be to constantly live in fear. There are so many of them around, but there were hardly any people you could trust. She mentions toward the beginning of the story that she was born in an age gap in the family. That she was either younger or older than most of her cousins and therefore an outcast. I think this is the key reason she survived. She wasn't as involved as the rest of them. She watched most of it happen rather than being directly involved. Her dark hair is symbolic of the fact that she is different from everyone else. It makes me wonder though whether she would be a lesbian if she had grown up in a different setting. She is obviously afraid to have children for fear that she will ruin their lives like hers were ruined, or for fear that they will somehow turn out like several of her cousins. And I think she just doesn't like men because every time she told a bad story about her family, it always seemed to be a male in the family at the root of the problem. The girls of the family would go suicide, or get hurt, but it was always the males that killed somebody or raped somebody or hurt someone in some way. I think she was just afraid of men and couldn't trust them. That's why she turned lesbian.

Anyway, its unreal to me that so many bad things could happen to one person or one family. That so many rapists, murderers, drug addicts, criminals and genuinely insane or idiotic people could all come from the same family just blows my mind. And of course they came from Greenville.

Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" was a big change from "River of Names". It was about a visit from a blind man. The man had been a long time friend of the narrator's wife, ever since she had worked for him years ago. His wife had just died and he was coming to visit his old friend, the wife of the narrator. The narrator didn't seem to trust the blind man or approve of him most of the story. But before long they were drinking, smoking and watching TV together on the sofa. Then towards the end of the story, the blind man convinces the narrator to draw a cathedral for him while he rested his hand on the narrator's hand. It was so the blind man could know what a cathedral looked like. I thought it was funny how the narrator had this idea in his mind the whole time about blind people. I don't know where he got the idea, but it was funny how he was surprised whenever the blind man did something he didn't think blind people did. And that was quite often. But he didn't like the idea of the blind man that his wife was so close to coming to stay in his house. He didn't like the fact that the blind man knew a lot about him even though they had never met. And I got the feeling that he was jealous of the blind man for some reason, maybe even a little intimidated. I feel like he thought blind people weren't supposed to accomplish much, but here this guy was getting close to his wife and doing things he wasn't supposed to do. After all, you would think that the man who could see was supposed to be the one showing the blind man things, opening the blind man's eyes so to speak. But instead it was the blind man who was changing their lives. He created some kind of unique experience with the wife years earlier when he touched her face, and I got the feeling that the narrator was undergoing some sort of life changing, eye-opening experience when he was drawing the cathedral. Its ironic that the blind man was the one who could create those experiences for them. This was a much better story to read than the first one, though I don't really think I can identify with either of them. Though for better or for worse, both stories were definitely thought provoking and I'm glad I read them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" and Jayne Anne Philips' "Home"

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" was a strange, albeit entertaining story about a guy and his friend who work together in a hospital. The story transitions from a scene in a hospital where his friend Georgie is cleaning up a big mess to a scene where a man comes in with a knife sticking out of his eye, to a scene where the narrator and Georgie are driving around randomly and it turns into a small adventure so to speak. This story was strange because it seemed to be a collection of random thoughts, or memories the author had struggled to put together. He even mentions one time towards the top of page 283 that he is not sure whether the events he is describing really happened that way. The events transition suddenly, almost as if the story skipped forward randomly in time. Sometimes I wasn't really sure how much time had passed, or how each part of the story fit in with the last. After finishing the story, I've concluded that a lot of the parts didn't go together and I should stop trying to make the connections. I thought the title of the story was ironic. "Emergency" implies urgency and awareness and worry. This story contained none of those things. Time seemed to just roll onward in the story. Nobody seemed to care much about anything, or act with a sense of urgency. Even when Terrence Weber showed up with a hunting knife buried to the hilt in his left eye no one acted like it was an emergency. And I still don't understand how Georgie, high as a kite, pulled the knife out of Terrence's eye without killing him, or at least causing him to bleed out. My favorite part though had to be the random excursion into the woods in the snow where they stumbled upon the drive in theater. I thought it was pretty funny when the narrator thought he was seeing angels descending from on high and it made such a huge impact on him, until Georgie told him he was looking at a movie screen. The bunny part was sad and pretty disgusting. This whole story makes me wonder whether you can believe any of it happened the way it did. The narrator was obviously on an acid trip or something while riding in the car and wandering through the woods, and their conversations definitely reminded me of the kind of stuff a couple of overbaked stoners would talk about. So this story was strange and hard to make sense of, but very entertaining.

"Home" by Jayne Anne Phillips was a bit harder for me to get through. There doesn't seem to be as much to say about it as the first story. It's about a young woman who comes back home to live with her mother after college because she ran out of money. The mother and daughter do not get along. They bicker about little things and they don't agree with each others life style. The daughter doesn't like how her mother just sits on the couch all night watching TV and knitting. The daughter says she doesn't like how the mother never does anything. And she questions her mother's marriage to her father. The mother doesn't like that her daughter is somewhat promiscuous, proven at the end of the story when she hears her daughter having sex with Daniel in the morning before he left. This story had a few disturbing parts, like the dream that the daughter had about her father coming to her and trying to do dirty things to her in the night. Or when they were in the bar called the Rainbow, and she was recalling a time that she was pinched by a senior when she was twelve, and he then proceeded to rub up her thigh. On an unrelated note, the father obviously had problems because he sat in the dark all day and night in that blue chair and just smoked. He apparently didn't sleep much either because he was always climbing up and down the stairs in the middle of the night. I thought it was funny how the mother and daughter were so comfortable around each other physically and emotionally, yet they often did not get along. They could stand around each other naked all the time and talk about their naked bodies and talk about orgasms, but they couldn't talk out their problems without it turning into a fight like on page 417. My last thought was that it showed a bit of a never-ending cycle in this story. The mother only gave herself to her eventual husband, but got trapped in an awful marriage for 20 years. The daughter didn't want to end up like that, so she compensated by sleeping with several different guys. In the end they both had relationship problems and ended up alone and sex starved. The only difference was the mother continued to not have sex for fear that she would want it all the time, and the daughter handled it by calling up an old boyfriend and having a one night stand for "old times' sake". I also thought it was ironic that the mother had spent a long time taking care of her mother before she died, doing all the nasty things that had to be done. Now the narrator has come home and is sort of taking care of her mother, or at least keeping her company through what are apparently some rough times. Some more of the never-ending cycle stuff. Anyway this story wasn't bad either, although it made me feel a little uncomfortable at times. But at least it was easy to read.