30 April 2010

Day 34: Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard Adams.  ISBN: 978-0380002931.

I love watching Hazel develop from an outsider in his warren into a leader of his own group of misfit rabbits. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't get the chance to really develop leadership skills or act as leaders within their area of expertise.  This is a damn shame because it makes you grow as a person and realize what your limitations are.  Everyone has some limited leadership skills based on what they're naturally good at, it's only a matter of speaking up when those abilities are needed for the task at hand.  It's just that many of us don't get to use these abilities or we speak up about them because there are so damned many of us, and therefore someone is bound to be better at something than we are.  Or at least that's we think.

Hazel probably wouldn't have done much of anything in his original warren.  He is obviously capable of making good decisions for his small clan, but without the opportunity to lead he likely would have been just another rabbit in the hole.

I sort of felt like just another rabbit at Antioch until I was asked by a couple of friends to run as coordinator of Dialogia (philosophy club).  I had no intention of running philosophy club, and I didn't think I would be good at it for several reasons. Namely, I don't have a background in philosophy at all and while I had taken a few classes here and there, my understanding of some of the core ideas was rudimentary at best.  However, I am a master at planning and I can clean the hell out of a room and keep it clean (if I don't have to live in it).  So I took up the challenge and I had a great time doing it.

There were fights of course, mostly with other political bodies on campus.  For some reason everyone on one of the councils had issues with giving us funding, despite the fact we had already been voted in as an Independent Group and had a right to that funding.  It was also very difficult to balance my two jobs on campus (as library assistant and art model), my three to four classes, and doing research for my senior project and eventually writing the damn thing.  But I work extremely well under pressure, especially for the first year or so.  I just wish that everyone had had the opportunity to feel how I felt watching Dialogia grow from one of the more obscure groups on campus to one of the most vocal and active.  I wish I could do it all over again.

Richard Adams will be celebrating his 90th birthday on May 9th, 2010.  The reading of Watership Down was not planned to coincide, but I thought I would mention it since it was so close.  Let's send the man birthday cards!  Address provided below:

Richard Adams
c/o Author mail, 7th Floor
HarperCollins Publishers
10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
(212) 207-7000

29 April 2010

Day 33: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

The Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey.  ISBN: 9780312851064.

My journey into the world of the Elvenbane started, where else, at the library.  I was holding a copy of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, when my fiancée went, "Here, read this," and stuck this other book into my hand.  Needless to say, I was just a little resentful (I started a list of books to read while working at the college bookstore back in the early '00's, I'm just now getting around to them, and I was really looking forward to reading Left Hand), but I gave it a shot.  I almost put it down after the first two chapters -- in fact, I would have, if I didn't feel the need to at least humor her -- but I'm glad I didn't.  Four chapters of dense introduction later, I found myself engaged by the deep characters and gritty, realistic relationships between them.  I'm currently on chapter two of the second book in the series, if that's any indicator.

Elvenbane got me thinking about the role of fantasy in my life.  I'm a huge geek.  I've done my time as a LARPer and in the pits of tabletop gaming.  I used to obsess over dragons when I was in high school.  "Sci-fi and fantasy" is my response when I'm asked what my favorite genres of fiction are.  I've lately fallen out of the fantasy geek lifestyle, setting aside my nights of gaming until 3 AM for schooling and handheld video games.  So in many ways, Elvenbane was a reintroduction to "real", or, as I put it, "serious" fantasy once more.

See, the fantasy series I'm currently reading (waiting for the next book, as a matter of fact) is Jim Butcher's fantastic Dresden Files series.  But that's urban fantasy, and the main characters are cynical modern era snarkfests.  Before that, I was heavily mixed up in the Xanth and Redwall series, the former using puns and comedy as driving forces for the plot, and the latter a much lighter fare aimed at young adults.  (Coincidentally, I fell out of reading both those series for more or less the same reason: I realized they were falling into formulaic collages of repeating tropes.  Brian Jacques has been writing the same novel for at least the last decade, while Piers Anthony is a perverted old bigot who lets his fans dictate far too much of his writing.)

So this leaves me at the Dragonriders of Pern, my first real love as fantasy series go.  I received a three-volume set of the first three books for Christmas when I was sixteen or so and spent the next two years engrossed in the stories.  The books taught me to love and respect dragons as amazing mythical creatures of grace, power, and beauty...  And therein lay some of the problem.  See, Pern is what I would consider the epitome of "serious fantasy": the novels are written with an eye towards romance and escapism, and any suggestion that there might be something inherently overblown about the whole thing will usually be met with derision, if not by the author then certainly by her leagues of rabid fans.  As a side note, I haven't read a Pern book in at least eight years.  I'm terrified of returning to the series and realizing that my childhood love wasn't as well written as I thought it was, or of making some other earth-shattering discovery.

Back to Elvenbane.  While the initial setup reminded me of this sort of highbrow, self-infatuated sort of fantasy writing, the novel really works to break the romanticism down.  You've got the high courts of the elven lords, and the magical realms of the dragons, but both of these worlds are presented as stagnant and hidebound.  The Elvenbane is the chaotic element, challenging traditions, breaking down barriers, and making those set in their ways more than a little uncomfortable.  Even better, I'm fairly certain that one scene in particular is a direct jab at Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders.  (She and Mercedes Lackey have written together, so it may very well be in good fun.)  Valyn, the young elven lord, is riding on the back of a dragon, trying to get help for their band, and, having an awful time of it with all the bouncing and heights and whatnot, reflects on the romantic stories he'd been told in his youth of people riding dragons, and just what hogwash it all was.

I could probably turn this into a lengthy literary analysis, but I think the conclusions should be obvious at this point.  I'm thankful to my fiancée for introducing me to this book, because if nothing else, it's reminded me what fantasy is meant for: helping us to think about the world in novel ways.

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't unemployed. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Wright State University in 2004 and a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Kent State University in 2009. He will make some lucky librarian a wonderful husband someday.

*This post was originally written April 25, 2010 and saved as an emergency post to give the regular author a freakin' break.  Also, this isn't quite in-line for my project, but it's close enough I'm willing to let it through.  Nepotism is awesome.

28 April 2010

Day 32: Rx

Rx by Tracy Lynn.  ISBN: 9781416911555.

College applications.  I can't even remember my college applications or what essay they asked me.  I think Antioch's had something to do with, "How do you define community?" or some granola crap like that.  In Rx, Thyme (the main character) gets asked to "write your own question and answer it."  I don't really know how useful that essay topic would be to the college since if it was me I'd probably copy-pasta an essay I had to write for a different application and change details as necessary.

But it got me to thinking about how...useful college application questions might be when not used as an anxiety-inducing, potentially life-altering exercise.  Which is kind of funny since I don't remember any of my essay questions.  Somewhere out there I bet someone has a blog that does nothing but answer college application essays, and if not, I want there to be one; the snarkier the better, graphics a definite plus. Especially with graphics.

Oh yeah, and I love off-the-wall essay questions like the ones the University of Chicago has.  I think this is a great way to get freshman to talk to each other because it immediately gives them a shared topic, and one that is probably going to be pretty safe.  Just look at one of their essay questions, 

"If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk? (No net.)"

Seriously?  This is kind of an awesome question.  First of all, the question does not assume your competency at tightrope walking.  So those who boldly state that they would walk over lava might not be the best candidates for your college, because they don't know to prepare for that kind of walk.  On the other hand, if they can write a fabulous essay about how well they can tightrope walk and it would be the most daring walk of all time, it might be a good risk because they're aware of the work it would take and they also have a sense of adventure.  Someone who would only walk over water, etc. might not be adventurous enough.

Here's an interesting one: if you were a college admissions counselor what kind of question would you want applicants to answer?*

*Hey, if you ask them in the comments, I might just give you an answer.  So comment already.

27 April 2010

Day 31: Rx

Rx by Tracy Lynn.  ISBN: 9781416911555.

Boredom is such a powerful state of being.  It make us do all sorts of things to escape, avoid, or alleviate it.  Usually really stupid things.  It's almost no wonder that kids these days take drugs recreationally.  They're so bored with everything it's amazing they aren't hopped up on something every single moment of their day.

How can they bored?  They have school and more activities than ever to fill their time.  They have iPhones and iPods and the internet and cars and some of them even have McJobs.  Well, exactly how intellectually stimulating is all of that?  I know I was constantly bored with school work.  Learning theories, dates, names, and formulas isn't exactly what I would call challenging work.  It gets to a point where either you "get it" or you don't and if you've tried 50 times to absorb the information, chances are you're just not going to get it, and you never will.  All of the classes are the same, regardless of the subject, and we use the same techniques for all of them.  Learn what you can during class, do the homework to the best of your ability, cram for tests, and promptly forget as much as you can after the semester to make room in your short term memory for the next battery of classes.  

You think I'm wrong?  Well, then you must have gone to school before we had bullshit tests that were composed of nothing but multiple choice or short answer where all we had to do was vomit back what we learned the week before.  They even teach AP classes how to write essays that the graders will like, not what we actually believe, but the answers they want to see.  This kind of meta-thinking is not only tedious, it's mind-numbing, which is why so many kids these days walk around like air-headed assholes.  They're so privileged they don't have to think.  I do apologize to anyone who may be the exception, but then if you are the exception I wonder if you might agree with me.

There are of course after school activities ranging from various clubs and sports teams to volunteer work.  Chances are, kids are in these not because they're motivated to participate, but because they want to bulk up resumes for college applications.  Out of the three I mentioned in this paragraph, volunteer work might be the most stimulating because there are so many things to choose from.  There's also a chance they've joined an organization that will recognize their individuals talents, and won't just use them as stamp-lickers or coffee-getters.

Jobs.  Think about all the jobs you had as a teenager.  Was there one that you could honestly say was stimulating enough that you didn't get bored after a couple of months?  Even the jobs I liked I was bored with.  I might have been too busy to think about how bored I was, but trust me, boredom was lurking, waiting for the customers to leave.  It's not like teenagers today have many chances to "mind the shop" anymore for their parents.  They're given the crappiest jobs at the crappiest places doing the same thing over and over again with little to no real responsibility.  Doesn't really give you much incentive to hold a job now does it?  Certainly doesn't make you feel obligated to go into work everyday and on time...and not stoned.

Entertainment.  We are surrounded by media and entertainment and socializing all the time.  Not a waking moment goes by where we aren't connected to some device that will stream media to us, just in case we get bored.  Even I keep my cell phone on all the time (although it has no camera, no internet access, and functions primarily as a phone and alarm clock - it does have some extras).  So why are we getting bored if we have all of this?  Because it's all passive.  There's no real need to interact with any of it.  Even talking doesn't seem to really use our higher brain functions anymore.  I have been so starved for the last few months for real intellectual conversation that I had to start talking to myself (i.e. my blog, tell people so it stops) to keep from getting bored.  I think even the internet has become more passive these days.

Yes I know, the internet.  It was supposed to be the big savior to revitalize the world, the big interactive media where we can connect to people from all over the world in a deep and meaningful way.  When's the last time you talked to someone from India on the internet?  Canada?  I don't think I've even been in a chat room since 1999, if not sooner.  You know why?  Because it degraded into a giant fuckfest, which is what happens when you appeal to the lowest standard.  It doesn't get much lower than the "show me your tits" guys, and that's mostly what the internet has become.  Sure, there's a lot of great information on here, a lot of useful tools, but even when I go through my Facebook news feed I probably read 100 status for every 3 that I actually find interesting, relevant, or important to my life or my friends' lives (I cannot tell you how annoying I find cryptic updates and posting song lyrics as your status.  Just stop.).  How can we not get bored with the internet when most of our time is spent looking for something that stimulates us rather than being stimulated?

With all that said, we spend so much of our time being bored that we don't even have the energy to get ourselves out of being bored.  After burning all our energy trying to get through the things we have to do in order to do what we want to do...we either choose to stay bored by doing the same things we always do (internet, watch tv, etc.) or we do something that doesn't take much effort:


26 April 2010

Day 30: Enchanted Hunters

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar.  ISBN: 9780393066012.

I'm sure this will show up again in my reading, but I want to address it now before I forget, and to be honest this was one of those "not overly inspired" reads.  The book focused a little too much on analysis for it to be appealing to a "casual" reader, meaning anyone who does not have an academic or professional interest in childhood reading.

Tatar titles one of her chapters Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Brushes with Death.  I don't know about you, but that prayer freaked me out when I was a kid.  I may have been particularly sensitive to it's insidiousness* due to my family's heathen ways. 
I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist so the whole "You're going to die and burn in Hell" thing always seemed way overblown and not very peace-loving if you ask me.  I'd like to think that a God who gave his only son so that we could have salvation might forgive us, or at least not send us to eternal pain and suffering, just because we have enough doubts not to be able to profess being Christian in good faithI like to tell people that I would rather risk leading a good and true life as a quiet, private-practicing Unitarian Universalist and hope that God will reserve a special place for us that isn't Hell than to lead my life as a loud, beat-people-over-the-head Christian who's going to Hell anyway because I don't really believe it in my heart.  That latter part applies to me alone and is not meant as a jab at anyone, so put the pitchforks down.

So why am I even familiar with this prayer?  There seem to be numerous versions of the prayer, but the one I'm familiar with is one of the more menacing ones.

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

My Southern Baptist grandmother forced me  to say this every night when I stayed in her home.  There is nothing like being faced with your own mortality every night before going to bed to make you wanna go over to Granny's.  And let's not talk about the potential nightmares.  I was familiar with the concept of death, but I don't think anyone likes it held over their heads.  I don't find this prayer particularly comforting or faith inspiring.  The very thought that God might take my soul, for no other reason than that he could does not sit well with me.  And this is probably one of the major reasons I have never been able to accept the idea of God with blind faith.

*Operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect.  Definition via dictionary.com

25 April 2010

Day 29: Enchanted Hunters

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar.  ISBN: 9780393066012.

At some point in the introduction, Tatar states that she's going to focus on books that belong specifically to the canon of children's literature.  It got me thinking about how much I read that could be considered "children's literature."  It also fascinates me that nowadays kids aren't reading the books that their parents read when they were young to connect the different ages; parents are reading what their children are reading, and these are books that were written this year or last year, or only three years ago.  And it's not just parents, it's twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, and over, regardless of their childless/child-free state.

Think of what this might mean about our current literary tastes or why we are still reading children's and young adult literature. 
I'm not talking about just the classics, those age old tales like Robinson Crusoe and Peter Pan; these are stories that it makes sense to revisit as adults, or visit for the first time if we somehow missed out on them in our childhood.  But what about things like Harry Potter, books that were meant for children from the start and just kind of snowballed into this worldwide phenomena?  Granted, I believe that most of the literature meant for younger audiences that adults are picking up are targeted towards young adults, so there is some overlap, but why are 40-year-old women drooling over Edward Cullen when there are plenty of Harlequin Romance Highlanders willing to actually ravish the girl rather than pussyfooting around?  

I wonder if maybe that's the whole appeal.  Not the lack of sex, but the simplifying of it, and every other aspect of adulthood. 
There are young adult novels that do go in-depth on adult topics and address them and their complications, but more often than not we see something that is presented in clear language, with sterilized situations and relationships.  There may be some confusion about relationship roles, etc. by the characters, but they are the typical and familiar confusions that young adults can relate to and "old" adults remember feeling.

For most of us, adolescence is a relatively short time in our lives packed in with far more complications and difficulties than later years.  We're dealing with things like growth spurts and insane hormone levels and friends turning into enemies and vice versa as we try to figure who we are.  We have to deal with new decisions and situations like whether or not to have sex, do drugs, go to college, take extra AP classes, get a job.  Our relationships with our families get incredibly complicated because we feel we deserve that extra freedom, but our parents refuse to even give us the chance to earn it.

Young adult literature takes all of this and turns it into black and white.  We might see the complications, but the author is able to explain the whys and whats so that we don't have to experience the turmoil of young adulthood, but we get to watch someone else struggle through it. 
On the other hand, I think another draw of young adult literature might just be that it is easier to read, it usually has larger fonts, the plots aren't overly complicated, and young adult authors totally uninhibited with what they write.  When there's no adult mind judging your flights of fancy, it's much easier to fly higher.

24 April 2010

Day 28: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  ISBN: 9780671027346.

Probably the most famous line from this novel is, "[W]e love the people we think we deserve."  Charlie's mother says it while he is talking to her about why his sister is in love with someone who hit her.  Before that, there is another striking moment in which Charlie's mom tells his sister to never say that someone is her "whole world."  Wow.  If only someone would have told that to Bella in the first book, Twilight might have been something I could have lived with. 

Joking aside, I really wish that more teenage girls, and women in general, would get this advice.  In fact I wish more of everyone would get this advice, particularly in their young and formative years.  It is already so difficult to be in love and deal with the awkwardness of social relationships that adding infatuation and self-isolationism into this is crippling.  Maybe it's something we all have to go through, because I certainly dealt with it (see this post).  But it would have been nice to have someone tell me this, even if I still went through the heart ache, and been able to think back about that previous advice and say to myself, "Oh, that's what they meant." 

Because you know what, sometimes I'm just not that smart.  It took me a long time to figure out exactly why my long distance college relationship didn't work out, and who played what parts in it not working out.  I'm still not happy with the way it ended and I still don't feel like I have the necessary closure, but if I had had that advice beforehand maybe I would have figured it out early enough to avoid some of the pain I went through, or at the very least to be able to tell my ex-boyfriend where to go and exactly why.

I guess what I would like to say to anyone who keeps making the same mistakes in love is: you deserve the best love possible because you are trying to be the best person possible, but you can't lose yourself in that love because you are the only person who knows what's best for you.  I'm not trying to be hard on people who do dumb things for people they love; it's almost impossible not to do.  I think sometimes we all need to take a step back from our romantic relationships and look at them as if they belonged to someone else; someone we like, but maybe who we know is a little too caught up in this thing for their own good.  If you are doing things in a relationship that you would not recommend that friend do, maybe it's time to rethink exactly why you are in that relationship. 

"Oh, but you're not doing that because your fiance is unemployed and kind of unmotivated, etc."  You bet your ass I do.  I evaluate everyday whether or not I should stay with my fiance.  I love him, I love him dearly, but I realize that as good as he is for me emotionally and mentally, he may not be so good for me financially.  There are issues about our relationship that I question all the time, and I may be making a huge mistake, but I do know what I'm getting into.  And that's because I think about it objectively and in terms of what it means for me.  As much as I love him and as much as I want to be with him, he has to work with me to make this a partnership.  If he didn't know it before, he sure as hell knows it now (say hi to the editor everyone).*

*In case you were curious, my fiance and I did have a small fight over this, which was resolved in an adult (but not X-rated) manner (you perverts).  He does want everyone to know that he thinks the whole last paragraph is a typo.** 

**Sorry guys, I increased the font when I realized it was just too damned small.

23 April 2010

Day 27: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  ISBN: 9780671027346.

The main character, Charlie, happens to have an amazing teacher by the name of Bill.  Bill gives Charlies extra assignments and books to read and encourages Charlie in academic and writing pursuits.  Reading about this relationship made me remember all of the wonderful teachers and people I've had in my life who have encouraged me in this way.  There are so many that I know I will leave a few out, people who range from "adopt-a-moms" to college professors who gave me glowing recommendations and pushed me to do things I didn't necessarily want to do.

Most recently, I have someone who has been a kind of informal career coach.  She has offered me advice on things from cover letters to interviews to what shoes to wear with a navy suit (cream or navy if you're curious, never black much to my frustration).  There is so little guidance about this stuff in college; they give you the knowledge to do the job, but not how to get the job.  They expect you to stumble around and screw up, and that's just not something most people can afford to do when they've taken out loans so they can supposedly get a good paying job.  Honestly, I would have found a course about applying for professional jobs much more interesting and applicable than "Information Technology," which was a kind of "Computer and Internet Basics for Dummies," only with a price tag of $1,400So thank you for teaching me how to get a job; it will pay off one of these days, maybe soon.  Also, I appreciate the work you threw my way: scooping litter for seven cats, cooking for your dogs, and pulling poison ivy out of your garden.

At Antioch I had numerous professors who were able to give me far more attention than I would have received otherwise, so this is one of those places I will leave people out.  I apologize, it doesn't mean your kindness and energy meant any less to me.  

The obvious person to thank is my academic and senior project advisor (why isn't this word in my dictionary?  Added).  We both started our careers at Antioch at the same time, and oddly ended them at the same time as well.  I stumbled into her class because I needed to replace Ceramics with something after being told there was "no room" for me because a bunch of seniors who signed up for the class hadn't stumbled in yet.  I never did get to take that Ceramics class, but I would not have traded my experience with my advisor for the world.  She is the whole reason I became a history major; before that it had never even occurred to me to get into history.  And I love her no less for forcing me to take classes I hated, because even though I detested the professor's personal beliefs and her material, I learned more from that class than I sometimes care to admit.  Also, having a gang of roughly ten people who went through the same hell I did to conspire with against the professor was kind of the most fun I had being miserable.  Thank you for allowing me to be your advisee.  You were one of the reasons I stayed at Antioch when I thought I wanted to leave that first semester.

 A not so obvious person from Antioch is my chemistry professor, who actually had a birthday recently (which I only know because of Facebook).  You may wonder why I bothered to take a chemistry class as a history major; well, it was my first semester and I thought about majoring in biology.  I could have taken "Everybody's Chemistry," but then if I actually did declare a science major I would have to take Chemistry I anyway.  I suck at chemistry.  There is no denying it; I will never be a science major, although if it got me somewhere professionally I'd probably try anyway.  My chemistry professor knew I was trying and knew that I could figure it out eventually, and he gave me all the help he possibly could.  I must have taken the midterm over three times, and he let me, because I attended class everyday and I was meticulous with my lab work (to the point they would last way longer than they should have).  Even the class where we made slime I chose the hardest one to make because he wanted us to make a variety of different slimes (mine was freaking awesome, thank you very much).  

He was also one of the few professors who made a point of eating in the cafeteria regularly, which is somewhat of a feat considering you needed a Teflon stomach most days.  It was also a great way for me to find the "nerd" table, which is where I made all of my friends.  And I've never seen someone have so many office hours.  There were times I would wake up early (9:00 am) on a Saturday and go take a walk on campus and find him sitting in his office working on lab reports, etc.  This happened consistently, and he was always willing to let me sit on the chalk dusted floor or chairs and talk about whatever I needed to talk about.  Thanks to my chemistry professor, for not judging my intellect on my inability to do chemistry.  PS: I am not one of the people in the slime lab photo, but that actually was from my freshman year of college.

I could indicate a number of people in high school, middle school, and elementary school who were influential to me, but to be honest many of the details are a little fuzzy.  Most of them were actually librarians, particularly in elementary.  I think I've covered the most significant people for my current situation.  I feel that I've been very lucky in this regard, and I hope everyone has had at least one professor like the ones I've had.  Feel free to thank an educator in the comments.

22 April 2010

Day 26: a general update

Hi, this is a cop out post, sort of.  I think we all need breaks every now and then.  I won't tell you I'm getting burned out by this project, because I'm actually not.  In fact, I think this has been more valuable recently than writing cover letters. I don't know whether it will lead to anything in my professional life, but it has been immensely useful in improving my writing abilities and my critical thinking skills.  I don't think I've experienced one of my bouts of depression/poor self-esteem since I started it.  So to the people reading this, thank you.

I'd like to talk a little bit about what I plan to review in the near future to give you a kind of sneak peak, and if there's anything particular you'd like me to touch on regarding the reading, now is the time to let me know.  I'm also excited to announce the prospect of guest bloggers.  People who are still interested in being guest bloggers should feel free to contact me by leaving a comment with some kind of information, or emailing me at acampb8@kent.edu.  At this point there are few enough people who are interested to allow "regular" guest bloggers, but I'd like to keep it open for newbies to join in too.   Ideally I want to get to a point where there's a guest blogger once a month to once a week.

So here's what I'll be reading (maybe) and why
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  ISBN: 9780671027346.

This one actually makes me think of think of an Antioch friend of mine.  It's also been described as a modern day Catcher in the Rye.  Well, I hate Holden Caufield, but maybe this won't be so bad.  It does seem like the kind of book I should have read when I was "the right age" for it. 

Rx by Tracy Lynn.  ISBN: 9781416911555.
I liked the idea of there being some smart kid who was not only selling prescription drugs to kids, but also diagnosing them.  This will be interesting in conjunction with my recent reading of the non-fiction We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.

The Mermaid Chair by Susan Monk Kidd.  ISBN: 9780143057420 (audiobook).
I've read another one of her books and it wasn't too bad.  I'm saving this for the road trip to my interview in Tennessee May 2nd-3rd.  Audiobooks prevent me from playing radio roulette and getting frustrated with commercials.  Since this will be an 8ish hour road trip I'll get plenty of listening done.  Otherwise I'm not terribly excited about this particular novel, but it's popular/well known enough for me to feel professionally obligated to read it.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.  ISBN: 9780380002931.
I'm not sure why I never got around to reading this in high school.  It comes highly recommended, and since it's one of my fiance's favorite books I felt the need to bump it up on my, "I really need to read this before I die" list.

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar.  ISBN: 9780393066012.
I am one of those crazy people that loves to read about reading.  I especially like to read about how literature/stories change the way we think about the world.  Reading was especially crucial to my development as a child so I'm interested to see what the academic thinking on this is.  Also, it was recommended by Neil Gaiman, speaking of...

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  ISBN: 9780061551895 (audiobook).
Yeah I know, I haven't even finished Smoke and Mirrors yet, but I was really excited about this book.  And even more excited to find it while browsing in the teen "to-shelve" cart at the library.  I love happy accidents like that.  I especially love getting audiobooks by Neil Gaiman, because they are always read by him and he has such a wonderful voice...  I also have a kind of sick fantasy where I like to pretend he's reading specifically to me.  If there was an auction item to have him make a cup of tea or cocoa and read a bedtime story for one night, I would very much want to win that auction.

The Plague Year by Jeff Carlson.  ISBN: 9780441015146.
Uh, I got nothing on this.  I must have added it for some reason.  Probably because I really enjoyed The Hot Zone by Richard Preston and I'm hoping for something similar.  Plus, I haven't read a medical thriller in awhile; I think the last one was Next by Michael Crichton about a year ago.  I highly recommend Next to anyone interested in ethical issues surrounding genome patents. 

The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston.  ISBN: 9780374205102.
This has one of the best covers I've seen on a feminist book.  Anyway, I was interested in this because I'm planning to get married and I don't think I've read a good and comprehensive explanation of what it means to be a wife as a woman and a feminist.  I'm at least interested in seeing what some of the issues might be, and maybe it'll give me tips on how to keep the balance of power at least somewhat equal.      

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins.  ISBN: 9780439023498. 
Holy butts, the waiting line for this was something like 50 people.  I guess some people just place holds on their library's copy in the Wood County system rather than selecting "any copy."  I was seriously not expecting to get this sent to me so soon. I'm going to try to space out series in the blog to try to keep topics from being boring or repetitive.  Or maybe you'll just get stuck with more Smoke and Mirrors while off tearing through sequels.  Just be glad I'm not planning to read Wheel of Time in the near future...although that might be an interesting year long project for a separate blog... most likely not mine.

So that's what I have lined up so far.  Please feel free to comment about any of these readings.  If you think my reading has been a little too focused on one subject or another, by all means recommend a book for me to read.  If you can't think of one, check out my To-read shelf on Goodreads and look for an interesting title.  I've been a little over enthusiastic with my book ordering recently, but if someone actually makes a request I may bump it up on my reading "schedule."  Speaking of, if I don't end up discussing all of these, it's because the book was too bad to finish or did not particularly inspire me to write anything about it.

What are you reading right now? 

21 April 2010

Day 25: My Freshman Year

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Students by Rebekah Nathan (pseudonym).  ISBN: 9780801443978.

Oh baby, turn the lights down low, we're gonna talk about sex today.  Ain't nothin' sexier than a librarian talking about books, so I'm gonna let down my hair and fling my glasses across the room while pouting about your overdue books...  Not really, but if that works for you, awesome.

I am actually going to talk about sex.  Actually I'm going to talk about talking about sex, because I wanna get metaphysical.  And if an Olivia Newton John just popped into your head, that was totally on purpose.  This topic was sparked by the portion of the book where Nathan asks other students what class "changed their lives."  Apparently all of them had good things to say about their Sexuality class.

I find the description of the Sexuality class somewhat interesting.  In the class they were required to read texts and watch movies to enhance the discussion, but it was expected that they would rely mostly on their own experiences.  While talking about sex in college changed my life too, all of my discussions happened...well...everywhere.  I don't think I remember a single day where I didn't participate, listen to, stumble onto, or start a conversation about sex.  We're talking about things from gritty play-by-play details to number of partners to the political contexts of socio-economic status of partners from different classes to what it means to have sex as a straight man or woman/queer man or woman/queer transgender  man or woman/polyamorous/etc.  We talked about sex so much I'm almost hard pressed to tell you that we talked about anything else.  

I don't want to say we were sex crazed; I just think maybe we were more open about it and therefore it made it easier to talk about it in an adult manner, without titters or offense being taken.  A lot of this had to do with campus policies that promoted openness about physical contact.  The Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (SOPP, the initials are said individually rather than saying "sop") has literally changed my life and the way I handle my relationships, both sexual and non-sexual.  I am a very physical person; I enjoy being close to people I like.  I hug, I kiss cheeks, I pat shoulders and heads, I enjoy giving and receiving (good) back massages; physicality is a large part of how I show someone that I like them and that I want to be friends with them.  Having the SOPP around forced me to make sure that every physical interaction I had was okay; every single time.  

I became used to the idea that not all of my friends appreciated the same level of physical contact that I did all the time.  There were friends who didn't like to be touched at all, or very rarely, and then there were friends where it was okay sometimes, and friends who didn't seem to mind at all.  The point is that the more I asked the easier it was to ask.  It actually put less pressure on the relationship.  The rejection was hard initially, but once I got used to the idea that it wasn't a rejection of me, but that they had different space requirements than I did, it was much easier to accept and overall our relationships were smoother.

I'll be honest, there were times sexually when following the SOPP was awkward, but it was always worth it.  Those were the times where I felt the safest and the closest to my partners.  I can't remember a time where I had bad sex when following the SOPP.  I think honesty and openness are a necessary requirement of good sex, even if it's just to say, "I don't like this or this, sometimes I like this but ask me first," or "I've had X number of drinks tonight, so keep in mind this may not actually be consensual," or "I just want to have sex with you tonight and I don't plan to see you again."  See, I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with the one-night stand.  Personally it's not my style, but I think it's a valid sexual choice for some people, some of the time.  I just wish people would be more honest about it.  True, a person may decide not to sleep with you when they learn you're not interested in a longer relationship, but for the sake of their sexual and mental health that is something they need to know.  And let's face it, if you're getting into someone's pants and they're not fully aware of your real intentions, that just makes you an asshole.

20 April 2010

Day 24: My Freshman Year

My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Students by Rebekah Nathan (pseudonym).  ISBN: 9780801443978.

I admire that a professor was willing to go back to college.  I kind of wonder why she chose to return to her own campus.  She was trying to better understand her students, but I don't think experiences vary that much from large state institute to large state institute.  Also, wouldn't it be better to observe student behavior is a setting that you're completely unfamiliar with so that you also experience the uncertainty of being in a new place?

She also wipes out a lot of details about which university she attended and taught at.  However, I think there are probably enough clues to determine who she is if someone really wanted to.  In fact, a quick search of the pseudonym pulled up a Wikipedia page for her.  I will link to it for your convenience.  Apparently she just gave one two many clues, such as telling people there were mountains nearby, how long she had been teaching, etc.  It would have been fun trying to piece all that information together if someone else hadn't done it first.

For me the most striking thing I noticed about this book was the differences between my education at a small liberal arts school and that of the state schools.  The dorm situation at Antioch College was less than stellar, but because most of us were from out of state we all typically lived in the dorms.  Most of us ate in the cafeteria because it was the most convenient.  These were all things that seemed to be lacking in the state universities.  Also at Antioch, we had to share bathrooms and depending on the dorm, we did use the commons spaces for community gathering.

Nathan also mentioned the shift from living in condensed housing to suite living, where four rooms share a bathroom, and apparently at some universities a kitchen, laundry facilities, and a living room area.  And we wonder why college education has skyrocketed?  I know there are other reasons, but students should understand that because education is now a business, whether right or wrong, that business will cater to the element that will "earn" them the most money. That means people who would be okay with living in high density living units, who don't need in-house laundry units and kitchens (as nice as they are), are still paying for them, because someone has to pay for the costs of the renovations and the fact that more buildings are necessary to house fewer students.

I'm not saying that universities shouldn't try to cater to students at all: renovations are a necessary part of building maintenance, but the extras aren't necessary and I'm not sure why students even want them.  There are now dormitories where cable and HBO are standard. These are nothing more than distractions, not only from academics but also from building community and learning to relate to people from different cultures and backgrounds. 

Think about it, if you aren't forced to share living space with someone from a different culture or background as you, how likely are you to actually interact with them?  That's what college used to be about.  Now it seems that we go to college for four, sometimes five, years to reinforce our beliefs rather than expand them.  Oh good, I get to learn more about what I already know, awesome, can I have my piece of paper now?  This isn't to say there aren't any problems with liberal education, but I do think there's typically more freedom to really explore interests.   I just think that students, alumni, and parents need to be clear about what they really want from universities.  We want a valuable education, not a party central padded with amenities and football games.  The extras might be nice, but they shouldn't be the focus of university life, and they may actually be detrimental to process of higher education.

19 April 2010

Day 23: The Hunger Games

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  ISBN: 9780439023481.

I don't often stay up late to finish a book.  Even when I have trouble sleeping, I usually avoid reading because the very act seems to keep my brain too alert to drift off.  Instead, I usually turn on my computer and that alone seems to make me tired, probably because I most often associate it with work. 

Recently, I've found my sleep schedule off.  This occurs more frequently due to my unemployment. It's been difficult to prevent myself from sleeping in till noon and/or napping the day away, so occasionally I have to reset my schedule.  The Hunger Games kept me up last night.   I was already having difficulty sleeping, it was 10pm, and I hadn't finished my 100 pages for the day, which was fine, because I usually stay up until 11:30 or midnight.  But by the time I did finish those 100 pages, I was too wrapped up in the book to put it down.  I found myself reading the last page at somewhere around 4:46am

There were days in high school when I would do this all the time, particularly on the weekends.  I didn't have a whole lot of friends, and I just wasn't all that into partying, so unless I was going to a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show I was probably at home on the weekends doing homework or reading.  And sadly, I can't remember the last book that kept me up late at night. 

There's something sort of special about that, though: participating in that kind of adventure of the page when everyone else is asleep.  Last night, the world was quiet and dark, and there I was, reading away with no fear of interruption.  Even the cat was off somewhere sleeping.  I was alone, curled up on my futon mattress on the floor.  Occasionally some nocturnal bird would chirp and I would wonder how close to dawn it was.  Stories somehow seem more real at night, and Collins' writing drew me into The Hunger Games in a way that a lesser novelist couldn't have.  The darkness seems to make it easier for me to connect with the character and the setting, as if the very intimacy of the situation makes me closer to whoever or whatever I'm with at the time.  The act of reading in the dark, the midnight hours, makes me feel like that book is mine alone and that it's the only world I have in that moment.

18 April 2010

Day 22: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  ISBN: 9780439023481.

I'm still at the beginning of the book because I've been distracted recently.  I'm going to have to start running around like crazy because I managed to swing a second interview with that university in Tennessee.  I'm excited because it's my first professional interview with an academic institution (not counting ITT Tech).  I have to relearn all the stuff I forgot about cataloging because I had no real interest in being a catalog librarian, but a job is a job and I'll still be able to do reference at this place.  Not to mention there are suit pants that need to be tailored, nails to be taken care of, and my car could use a serious oil change.  On top of all this I landed an odd job working for a professor here at Bowling Green State University.  This has given me much needed cash for...well, things like my oil change.  So forgive me if my posts aren't as thought provoking over the next month or so, and if I switch to a weekly schedule, it means I'm employed and you should be happy for me.

Anyway, Katniss was describing how she collected food for her family from the forest.  I've never had to do this, although I enjoy being able to recognize a handful of plants (including poison ivy thanks to my somewhat recent brush with it...literally).  My fiance is also fairly quick to recognize almost anything local to Ohio and has a vast knowledge of things that are kept in the dark and grown in animal dung.  

It occurs to me that I don't necessarily have the knack for finding edible foods in the wild, but I do have a similar trait, which is remembering people's dietary preferences/habits.  This is a bizarre thing because my brain is normally the consistency of swiss cheese and you never know what's actually going to be retained.  Well, this is one of those things I happen to retain.  I suppose since we are a social species this is evolutionary necessary and important information, but it's the damnedest thing that I can remember that Joey is a vegetarian who doesn't eat honey, Sue is allergic to tomatoes, and Janet is on Weight Watchers.  It actually got to the point where at one job I was consulted anytime food was brought in for certain people so things could be left to the side, or a low sugar cake could be made for the diabetic, etc.

A strange glitch with this, uh, ability is that if dietary preferences are changed or I learn about them later, I'm slow to remember them.  For some reason, if I meet you within a week and I learn that you don't like cilantro that becomes a Major Point of Interest in what I remember about you.  In fact, I can forget your name and remember that you can't eat strawberries.  It really is kind of like a strange super power and I sort of wonder if anyone else does this, or if my brain is just wired funny.  I also wonder if it might have a more sinister background, and part of that is probably because I'm reading a book like The Hunger Games where people are trying to kill each other.

Maybe this ability to remember foods people can't eat was a way for people like me in primitive societies to knock off newcomers to the cave that they didn't like.  I mean sure there were probably some benefits to keeping the regulars healthy, but then why is it easier for me to remember it when I first meet people?  There's little advantage to remembering that Grandpa hates asparagus when the entire clan knows this, but if the new guy is a jerk and I know he can't eat peanuts I'd have the power to make his life a living hell at the least and possibly send him into anaphylactic shock if I really didn't like him.  I'm not saying I would ever do this, but why, why does my brain remember this stuff?  I like to ask these questions and try and figure out the biological/neurological/evolutionary advantage. I think it's important to question our own thought patterns and weird psychological phenomena.

So yeah, sorry about the kind of weird post, but I hope it was sort of entertaining and I was having fun thinking of different foods that kill people and what not.  Do you have any weird "things I seem to remember about people for no reason" abilities?  I'm interested, tell me.

17 April 2010

Day 21: Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, translated by Xan Fielding.  ISBN: 9780814900642. 

I believe that we all like to think we would behave nobly and rationally when confronted with an alien life form.  You might think that it would be easier to relate to a sentient creature that looked at least somewhat familiar, something that had recognizable traits: ears, eyes, nose, mouth.  I sometimes wonder and fear what my reactions would be to meeting a new race of sentient beings, or even finding out that a current species on Earth is sentient.

I like to pretend that no matter how strange and grotesque (or eerily familiar) they might be, that I would judge them based on their culture, their rationality, and the context to which those traits apply.  Until I'm confronted with this situation, I just don't know how I'll react.  I'm not sure I would be as calm as Ulysse Merou in Boulle's novel, I might very well lose my mind like Professor Antelle rather than cope with the shock.  I would particularly begin to question my humanity and its value if confronted with a race of human-like inferior beings.

In fact, I'm not sure which would be worse.  I think I'd almost rather meet a race of intelligent apes than a race of animal-like humans.  With human-like beings I would still have the need to communicate with them, but not the capability, at least not on the level that I'm used to communicating with...most...human beings.  While my physicality with a dissimilar species may be somewhat limited (depending on how put off I would be by their appearance/cultural barriers), I think I'd rather live without sex and creating a family than without companionship.

Of course Merou was faced with both of these and I found myself fascinated by his ability to relate to both alien groups in different ways.  He allowed himself to be physical with the human-like creatures, although he felt a great deal of guilt and embarrassment about it, but he also had a deep friendship with some of the sentient Apes.  I think the fact that he was able to have both was probably what kept him sane, along with his attempts to spark intelligence in the human creatures.

Sometimes I wonder why literature isn't studied in psychology classes, at least for the sake of discussion.  I would have been fascinated by a Psychology of Literature class in college.   Hell, I'd even take one now if I could afford it and knew of someone who was teaching it.  These are means of presenting situations and experiments that can never conscientiously be carried in real life, assuming they are even possible to begin with.  But it will lead to a deeper understanding of the human psyche, at the very least of the author who wrote the work.  I think Boulle presents us with the very best and the very worst of human intellect; it speaks highly of someone who is willing to expose both to his readers.

16 April 2010

Day 20: Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, translated by Xan Fielding.  ISBN: 9780814900642.

I can't very well read Planet of the Apes without thinking about the movies.  I loved the Planet of the Apes movie, which completely took me by surprise.  I'm one of those people who will watch movies just because it's become part of the popular culture; I've seen some bad movies for exactly that reason.  The same applies to books of course.  The only reason I read Twilight is because I feel professionally obligated to read what the masses are reading.
I think it's interesting that the stories that are part of our collective conscious have transitioned from oral to literature and now to visual.  I doubt that the current generation has the same exposure to the old fairy tales that we do, and what they have been exposed to was because of Disney (visual).  This is completely detrimental to our youth because they are being fed images rather than creating their own.  These stories used to activate creative and imaginative processes which led to a deeper understanding of the moral presented by the tale.  Now our children are being exposed to watered down versions and what's worse: they're no longer required to think the stories.
Thinking about the stories is what really ingrains them into our psychesWithout these common stories to base our experiences and our understanding of morality on, I fear that it will be harder to relate to each other.  We won't have those common stories to talk about and discuss on deep levels, and really, there's only so much you can say about Disney's Little Mermaid.  I'm not saying it will be impossible, but I do think it's going to be much harder for the future generations to find something they all share that will connect them to both their own generation, and those that will come before and after.

Note: I'm looking for guest bloggers.  If you are a librarian, are working towards becoming a librarian, or are in a related field and would be interested in participating, please contact me at acampb8@kent.edu, or leave a comment with contact information.

15 April 2010

Day 19: Moonlight Falls

Moonlight Falls by Vincent Zandri.  ISBN: 9780981965406.

There are a lot of things I would like to say about this book and its...qualities, but I'm going to save that for Goodreads.com.  I do feel bad about the review I'm going to give this novel in some ways, because I did win a signed copy via the First Reads program on Goodreads.com. I wanted to like the book.  I wanted to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I have a signed copy of that, and it's really good."  But on the other hand, I have to keep my integrity as a reviewer, and I'm just not digging the book.If you want to read my reviews, just follow me there.  Let's just say this novel reminds me a lot of why I'm not a novelist.

My first attempt to write a novel was on my mom's MacIntosh laptop sometime back in 1998.  I was in 8th grade and our literature teacher spent a lot of time getting us to write as a means of improving out thinking about literature and as a means of improving our grammar.  The novel started off as a short story (possibly 8 pages long double-spaced) that was heavily borrowed from the Star Wars novels I was reading devouring at the time.  I remember actually sketching out the main character, creating symbols, and describing new creatures and terrains for the desert world my characters lived in.

The first novel was sadly eaten by the computer when it decided not to boot up properly, or some necessary program was somehow deleted.  My disks were corrupt because I wasn't particularly careful with them and we didn't have flash drives, which are significantly more stable and portable than the old floppy disks ever were.  I'm actually sad that no existing copy of the story remains, because it's one of those things I can show people and say, "I know it's crap, but look, I was only in 8th grade when I wrote it.  It's pretty good for being 13, right?!"   I can't remember exactly, but I think I got up to something like 50 pages single-spaced on that laptop. That's a sizable chunk of work for someone so young, and who knows, it could have been salvageable..

My second attempt at writing a novel is much more embarrassing.  I was working at Syracuse Peace Council at the time as an intern and so it kept me occupied and thinking about things other than my difficult living situation (which did eventually improve).  I was fascinated with the local cemetery at the time, which is one of the oldest historical cemeteries in the country that still accepts internments.  I don't consider myself morbid, but cemeteries are nice places to go, with their well kept lawns, nice statuary, and tendency to be deserted.   Plus, if there's a historical society or cemetery society attached, you can go on some pretty interesting walking tours and get some local history lessons, usually for free.

I think my problem with this particular novel is that I wasn't able to stop and think about what I was writing.  Of course I didn't prepare for it properly either because the last novel I worked on came to me a little more organically.  This one was the result of the infamous NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  I don't actually have a problem with this phenomena.  I think it's a great idea to get people writing and to realize how difficult it actually is to write...but I think there needs to be about three or four months before November comes around where there's a National Character Sketch Month, and a National Basic Plotline Month.  Something where we can plan and stew over the novels we're supposed to vomit out in one month.  And while 50,000 words is great, it does not a novel make (usually).  So yeah...I gave up on that one too, especially once I realized I had no idea what I was doing with it.

Still, I find the process of writing cathartic, and people who can actually follow through and finish a novel are amazing...  I just don't think those novels should always be published.  Sorry Zandri, I'm sure you're a nice guy, but your writing style is driving me up the walls and I'm glad I only have 100 pages left in your novel.  But just think, if I hadn't won this book I wouldn't have even bothered to finish it.  For those of you who write, keep writing even if it's bad, show it to someone, edit the crap out of it (seriously, take the crap out of it), and be proud of it no matter what people like me say about it, because when it comes down to it, someone is going to like it.  And thank you for reading my stuff.  I know it's not the best, but it helps me process, and I like to think you might get a little something out of it.

14 April 2010

Day 18: Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  ISBN: 9781416971733.

So, I'm going to talk a little bit about gender here.  Which I know is a touchy subject and may alienate any conservative or old-fashioned readers I might have now or later, but this is a thing that is so central to everyone's lives, whether they realize it or not.  I am a woman, who was born a woman, but honestly I could go either way.  Really.  If I could wake up in the morning and decide to be a man, there would be days I would do just that.  And you know what, I don't think I'm alone.  I don't even think that's an "abnormal" thing.  It would just be another choice, like deciding whether we want to wear sandals or tennis shoes that day, it would be like, "Oh, today is definitely a penis day."

In Leviathan, Deryn/Dylan Sharp dresses as a boy in order to join the British Air Service, and trust me that's not a spoiler.  She seems constantly aware of her gender rather than eventually becoming comfortable with the deception.  But then, she's not a woman who wants to live as a man, but a woman living as a man because she has to in order to achieve her goals.  I occasionally wear men's clothes myself, or at the very least unisex clothing, because I find it comfortable and much less of a hassle than women's clothing.

Also.  I am fat.

Yesterday my friends and I went out to a bookstore, and then they wanted to get some clothes.  I believe the primary objective was underwear, but of course other things were bought as well.  At the last store they actually had clothes that I both needed and...almost fit.  You see, I am a fat woman who has no boobs.  I cannot find bras that fit me properly, even when they are in my size, so finding something that's even close gives me a little glimmer of hope that maybe, maybe I can wear this.  I don't think men have this same problem.  I'm sure there are fat men out there who do have some issues, but it's not the same.

Men typically have fairly similar bodies: your chest sizes don't vary as much as women, you don't usually lack or have very wide hips, and for some reason your butts almost always look good in jeans.  Women have so many variations in their bodies, and I am sadly shaped more closely to a man's than to a woman's body (nearly flat chest, no butt, broad shoulders).  And you know what, I like wearing men's clothes.  Not because I intend to live my life as a man, but because I don't think it should matter.

If they made women's clothing that fit me properly, that hung on my frame as well as men's clothing tends to hang on my frame, I would probably buy it more often.  I would be willing to spend a couple hundred dollars (if and when I have it) on a sun dress, two pairs of slacks, and blouse.  That would be awesome.  It would also be awesome if people would just forget gender altogether, at the very least in the professional world.  You know what; it works.  I've lived in that community.

Antioch.  Oh god Antioch.  Even though gender politics played a large part in my career at Antioch, there were days when I honestly forgot what gender I was.  The only time I remembered was when we would go "outside the bubble" and I had to use the restroom.  Gender did not affect my education, or my work, or my social life at Antioch.  I want that back.  I want to be able to go to work and not have it matter that I'm not wearing make-up or high heels.  I want to be able to go to work and not even have the possibility that it will be whispered that because I'm successful I must be sleeping with someone.  I shouldn't have to work twice as hard as someone else just because we have different genitals.

Everyone should just forget gender at work.  It doesn't matter.  Your work and your personal life should be separate entities.  If you want to get to know someone, invite them out and then you can remember genders.  Based on a working relationship with someone, I can tell whether or not I want to spend more time with them.  If I don't want to hang out with them after work, I certainly don't want to have sex with them; and really, that's the only time gender should matter.

13 April 2010

Day 17: Haunted

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk.  ISBN: 9781415921512 (audiobook).

After being so grossed out initially by this novel I'm not sure why I kept listening, but I'm glad I did.  The first short story so far has definitely been the most disgusting, although there have been a few I found unnecessarily vulgar.  Anyway, it was worth it because I learned about something new and for me, that's the whole point of reading.  Regardless of whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, there is always the opportunity to expose yourself to something new through reading.

Yesterday I found myself introduced to a new disease thanks to Palahniuk's character, Brandon Whittier.  Whittier suffers from a horrible disease called Progeria.  It's a congenital, but non-hereditary, disease that causes children to begin showing symptoms of aging.  These children rarely make it past thirteen.  Their appearance would almost be comical if it weren't for the heartbreaking truth that they will never lead normal lives even with the best of support networks.

In Palahniuk's story Whittier looks like a normal elderly man, which makes for a better story, but doesn't really give you a good idea of the disease.  Whittier was a complete asshole, not that I blame him for being angry, but I wonder if I would behave them same way.  This kid ruined lives, he was abandoned to the state and his life wasn't great, but if you knew your life was going to be short wouldn't you want to leave the best impression possible?  In a long life you have the potential to make up for all of the bad you've done even if you aren't planning to be a contributing member of society.

I guess if I was doomed to die at such a young age I might think someone owed me something in life.  But even when I was 13 and more self-entitled than I care to admit, I mostly just wanted to be left alone.  How much anger and resentment would a person have to carry around in such a short time to completely ignore the basic rights of other people?  Is it even possible to maintain that kind of anger when you're inflicted with this kind of disease?

12 April 2010

Day 16: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. ISBN: 9780380789023.

Looking for the Girl, pages 163-175.

Despite the fact that I started listening to Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted on audiobook yesterday, I don't think I'll be reflecting on that publicly, especially since the first "story" grossed me out so much I had to fast forward through it.  Let's just say there are some forums I would prefer not to talk about auto-erotic asphyxiation (and worse), and this is one of those forums.  But to keep it a little smutty, because god knows I'm not shy about sex, I'll go ahead and tell you what I've been thinking about this particular bit of porn-centric writing.

Our narrator is a man obsessed with his first "perfect woman" image, which he comes across in an issue of Penthouse.  Time passes and the girl keeps showing up periodically during usually important transition periods; she's always the same girl, the same age, but with a slightly different look, new hair color, grooming, etc.  By the end of the story the narrator is left with a sense of disappointment because this "perfect woman" is no longer obtainable, and in truth never has been, because even when he's in the same room with her she isn't actually real.

It's not the woman that gets him excited, it's the idea that he's found a perfect mate: someone he thinks he can relate to and be satisfied with.  But the truth is you can never be satisfied with anyone based on what you initially expect from them based on their appearance or even from phone or IM conversations.  I was definitely a victim of this mentality; there's no room for the person or the relationship to change.

When I was eighteen and still in the process of changing constantly, I fell in love with a man who was eleven years my senior.  I was young and did not understand the impact that his image of me would have on our relationship, and until the relationship was coming to an end, I didn't even realize he had this idealized version of me in his head.  Since we met when I was still in high school, I didn't have the brains to call an end to the romantic relationship when I left for college, and he sadly wasn't mature enough to just let me go.

It probably won't take you a lot to realize that I made some drastic changes in my ways of thinking (although this was somewhat stilted by my hanging onto this guy), but I was a different enough person that it became one of the things we fought about.  Rather than standing up for myself and telling him, "God dammit of course I'm miserable because I love you and I want to talk to you and you're making no effort to communicate with me," I let him blame me completely for the mistakes I made.  But you know what, I owned up to those mistakes and admitted them to him, and if he had called me a day earlier it wouldn't even have been an issue.

To this day I am sometimes furious to think about all the opportunities I might have missed out on during that first year at college because I was wrapped up in him and all his bullshit.  There were parties I didn't go to, and boys I didn't kiss, and people I was rude and acerbic to because I was too involved in a toxic relationship to know what I was doing.  Oddly, those were the three hardest semester I ever had at Antioch, not that the others were necessarily easy, but at least the only person's emotional mess I had to deal with was my own, and I liked it that way.

How do I feel now?  My fiance has his problems, and we certainly fight about them, and we fight about mine too.  But there's an understanding that our identities as people are fluid and constantly changing.  We aren't pictures in a book, where there might be new things revealed by looking at it, but it's still the same static image and there's just not much depth no matter what.  We know that there are times where we will feel closer to each other than others, where one of us might be a little too clingy for the other, that we might not even be sexually or even emotionally attracted to each other for our entire relationship; but we think our relationship is important enough to stay together and work to rebuild those attractions.  We know that we can wait for the other person to be just as clingy and give the necessary space in the meantime.

And maybe one day, we'll look at each other and realize that we don't love each other anymore, or not enough to stay together, and as calm rational adults we'll go our separate ways.  That's a risk of being in an adult relationship, but because I know he sees me as a person, I know he will communicate any problems with me and we will figure out what to do about it.  I won't find out one day that all of a sudden I don't meet his image of what I'm supposed to be and now he just can't love me anymore because of that.

I hope it's a lesson that people learn a lot sooner than I did, regardless of whether they stay with the person who taught it to them.

11 April 2010

Day 15: Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  ISBN: 9781416971733.

This is one of those books that makes me think about all the other books I've read over the past twenty-something years.  Most of which I've forgotten.  So far I can't say this has been a fairly memorable read, but as I'm only a quarter of the way through the four-hundred and a half pages I'll reserve judgment a little longer. 

Still, I'm enjoying this.  The large print has been easy on my eyes, which is a nice change of pace from the strain of driving (I've finally stopped seeing Volkswagen Beetles when I close my eyes, thank you).  And as far as Young Adult literature goes, this is one of the most age appropriate things I've read in a long time.  This is the kind of book I would have really appreciated when I was between 8-12, where I was reading at a very high level both vocabulary and concepts, but wasn't quite ready for adult reading. 

On the other hand Leviathan is very well suited for this age range I think, and maybe even a little beyond.  There are some complex themes, or at least themes that have the potential to be complex.  The characters started out as very rough sketches, but I get the feeling they'll soon be fleshed out.  The one problem I do have with the novel is that it does that common thing of, "I'm a strong kid because during times of danger I manage not to break down and grieve."  I think this might be a potentially harmful thing to teach kids.  I know there have been times where I've taken the martyr role in my grieving or suffering as a child and I would have been better off to just cry and let my mom hold me instead of keeping it inside. 

It's strange because I find myself more emotional as an adult than I ever did as a child, but then I lived in a very emotionally heavy household with one parent who was incapable of dealing with my emotions, and one who was so busy dealing with everyone else's that I just wanted to give her a break.  Even after my father and brother were removed from the household I felt unable to unburden myself to my mother, which led to a lot of time spent alone when I felt sad that might have been improved by someone else's presence. 

Today I'm almost always on the verge of tears, and every now and again I go to my fiance and let him comfort me and reassure me.  It's terrible that it's taken me over ten years to find someone else to take on this role for me, I should have allowed more people into my life, but reading all those adventure stories where the heroes and heroines aren't allowed to cry, where a lack of emotion was seen as a boon rather than a potentially crippling emotional flaw (which, trust me, it is), made me slow to open up.  This probably prevented me from making a lot of friends, which was difficult enough due to moving around every couple of years.

So someone tell me, why don't we have main characters who are so stricken by grief that they curl up into balls in their bedrooms for hours at a time before picking themselves back up and facing the world?  Is it because crying isn't romantic enough?  I can tell you one thing, I feel closer to characters who mirror my emotions more than I do the ones who remain stoic under all circumstances no matter what.  I read to be reminded of my humanity, not to be whisked into a world of wooden characters and flat emotions.
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