Christmas Ain't Over Yet

Bluntly put, these are the unpleasant things that have taken place this past week:

1. I was denied a private loan once again. The question of whether or not I will be attending university this coming semester is in question. At this time, I don't know how I am going to pay for school. I could go into details about how my immediate family is unable to assist me, and how my extended family refuses to, but I don't wish to sound prude or desperate (even though I am).

2. For three days, my mother and I were snowed in. We had yet another blizzard in this part of the country, which pretty much grounded everyone for a few days over Christmas. Many people were without power due to the amount of ice we received, and many more were snowed in until yesterday. At the moment, this is the most snow (in the month of December) the Omaha metro area has seen in more than 60 years. Currently, there is about two feet of snow on the ground; and that isn't counting the six-foot-plus drifts.

3. My mother and I spent Christmas alone at the house, watching T.V.

4. I was not invited to my dad's family Christmas.



Now, on the contrary, these are the good things that have happened (or will happen) this week:

1. A. is arriving today; in a few hours, to be exact! I am, to say the least, very excited to see him, and am incredibly happy that he will be spending New Year's here, with my family.

2. New Year's Eve will be fun, of course, but the subsequent two days will also be wonderful. My mom's family Christmas is the first of the year, and my immediate family will have ours the following day, on the second.

3. I have a time capsule that I get to open this year. I made it when I was nine years old.

4. I'm thinking of how I can pay for school; examining my possibilities.

5. I got a free lunch today. It was delicious.

6. I took some pictures of my house when the storm started, and have begun editing them. They are the ones that I am sharing in this post, albeit it is a day late.


the front yard tree






garage window


my footprint in the snow




Christmas Eve

As I type this, it is currently 1:45 in the morning, Christmas Eve. Yesterday--the 23rd of December--was icy, to say the least. Here in the Omaha metro area, the weather has been all that anyone can talk about.

Even the other day, as I stood in line at Wal-Mart, a short, eighty-year-old woman whose physicality reminded me of my grandmother (before she died).

"My daughter lives out in Newton, you see," she said. "That's on the other side of Des Moines."

"Yes," I agreed. "I've been through there quite a few times."

The woman nodded. "Well, she was going to come on our for Christmas, but I told her not to worry, given the weather." She shrunk into herself a bit. "I told her it wouldn't be safe, and that she should stay home. There will always be another day." She added the last sentence knowingly, but not happily.

I smiled understandably, my "big heart" compassionately sympathizing with this elderly stranger who donned brown, over-sized glasses upon her nose. I tried to hold up my end of the conversation by bringing up a blizzard that she was sure to remember.

"Well, this was before I was born, but my brother was little; sometime in the early 80s. Anyway, it was so cold and so snowy and windy and terrible that, even though they weren't going to have Christmas, my parents rode the tractor the few miles into town just to make it."

The woman smiled as her wrinkled hands carefully set baking soda and creamer on the counter. "That had to been '83," she said.

I laughed. "Yep! That was it; my brother would have been three!"

She shook her head at the memory. "That was terrible, that year," she said. "So much wind." She shivered. "They say there is going to be a lot of ice this time around, too. I really hope that we don't lose power."

"Well, hopefully everything will be all right," I remarked, pulling my bags from the gyral sack rotary. Checking to make sure that I had everything I purchased, I leaned over to the woman, who was in the middle of buying her last-minute goods. "You have a Merry Christmas," I said heartily. "Stay warm!"

"And you as well!" she exclaimed, pulling her checkbook out of her wallet. "Merry Christmas."

Keeping to both the elderly woman's word (as well as the weathermen's), the ice arrived Tuesday evening, coating trees and power lines in its stiff frigidness. It rained nearly all day, causing some of the snow to turn to slush. Today, as the slush re-freezes, it will be encased in another layer of ice that will soon be buried underneath (supposedly) an additional 10-14 inches of snow. (At the moment, we already have more than a foot on the ground.)

It should be interesting, to say the least. Along with countless others, I may have been dreaming of a "White Christmas." However, I am also among those who still wish to attend a Christmas Eve church service; there are so many that have been canceled due to weather.

A fourth of the "icicles of death" hanging from the south side of our house.


Though it is three feet long, I still have to say...my neighbor's is bigger...






Christmas Eve Musings

Not even half an hour ago, I got off the phone with A., who--I'm guessing--forced himself to stay awake and wish me a "Merry Christmas Eve." Given that he is an hour ahead of Central Time, he had already been "celebrating" today for an hour by the time we were wrapping up our conversation.

One of the first things we discussed is my financial situation for next semester which--at the moment--is quite bleak. Bluntly put, I need money. To be more exact, I found out yesterday that I was denied yet another loan. To be exacter, I have no idea how I am going to pay for next semester's "tuition, fees, travel, and miscellaneous."

Our talk then turned more nostalgic. Though I asked him where "this was coming from," A. provided no answer as to why he suddenly announced that he wished he could go back in time.

"Why?" I asked, not quite sure what to expect for an answer.

Childhood was the answer; naive and simple childhood. Given what today is, I was transported to my own Christmas memories, especially the year when I was five.

We were living in the house prior to the one I reside in now, and, as I recall, it had been a "hard year." It was the year that I had asked my mom if we were going to be homeless. It was the one-year anniversary of my grandfather's death. It was the last Christmas spent in "the yellow house." Not having hardly any money to buy food or pay bills, I wasn't expecting too many gifts from my mother. However, I knew that I could always count on Santa Claus to bestow his gracious gifts upon me.

Sure enough--having woken up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom--I quietly crept out of my room and into "the other room." The French doors were swung open, and my mom slumbered on the couch, which sufficed as her bed. In the light of the TV, I saw a large dollhouse, and several other Barbie components that I had wished for, including a swimming pool. In my white, full-length nightgown that, for several years, I designated as my Christmas Eve pajamas, I knelt next to my new toys, carefully stroking them with my index finger. Even in the near blackness, the shiny, bright pink of the "Barbie bathtub" shone in the blue shadows that flashed throughout the room. Breathlessly, I admired each new gift, anxiously awaiting the wee hours of the morning when I could actually play with them.

However, it wasn't Christmas that wasn't on A.'s mind. Rather, it was quite the opposite.

"I just wish I could go back to those times, you know?" he said evocatively. "I mean, looking back, things aren't the same anymore. The sunset doesn't seem quite as beautiful. The moon is not as big, and...there's not as many stars in the sky, even. It's just...looking back, as a child, the world had more color; more saturation, especially in the summer."

"I would agree," was my lame response. I followed through with an explanation of my long-time best friend, who--for thirteen years of school--was also my next-door neighbor. During the summers, we would--literally--spend all day, every day together, outside. It was wonderful; the barefooted freedom of tree-climbing and bike riding and snake-catching and softball and swing-sets and chalk drawings and fireflies. It was as if nothing less than infinite weariness would tear us from the husky glow of the summer sunset. Each day had provided an innocent and exciting adventure which, of course, stretched our imaginations and blackened our barefooted soles.

There were the Christmases, too; each year, faithfully on the 27th of December, one of us would call the other and invite the other one over. There was the year, for instance, that I received LEGO kits and we spent several hours reconstructing "LEGOville" on my bedroom floor. There was the year that we exchanged Beanie Babies and build cities out of cardboard boxes. There was the year that her room was being remodeled, and so we spent time in her makeshift bedroom, feeding her hermit crab and playing mancala. There was the year she and her younger sister received an N64, and we spent all day trying to perfect our Mario Kart skills. Subsequently, the next year I got an N64, and received lessons from her on how to expertly play Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I could write an entire book on the history between she and I. I could write about how she and I would always don snowpants and conquer the mountains of chunky ice in the church parking lot next door. Or how we both had the training wheels taken off of our bikes on the same day. I could include all the inconsequential details, such as the day we edited each other's poetry on her porch and found that we were both equally jealous of each other's writing, or how--in tenth grade--we would avidly listen to Avril Lavigne and both claim that we had a deep connection to "My World."

What's interesting is that I can see her argument now; she really was that girl that wondered "where do I belong, forever?"

Six years later, we are still next-door neighbors. However, we rarely speak to each other; we have grown much too far apart, and both of us are very different from the seventeen-year-old selves that we parted from. Sometimes I still think of her poem, "Reflections upon Reflections," and feel guilty for wishing I could write something so resplendent. Sometimes I think back to our ten-year-old selves when we would play "Titanic" in my backyard and sing every major-motion picture song we knew.

I still look out of my bedroom window at times to catch a glimpse of her; I'm sure she notices. The room that was once her makeshift bedroom is the established computer/guest room, and we have caught each other's eyes through the blinds late at night. Just like Avril proclaims, we both "stay up late without sleeping." However, I'm sure we're each embedded in our own thoughts; she--with anything and everything I can't think of, and me--with the nostalgic memories that unfolded themselves with A.'s "things aren't the same anymore."

Christmas Shopping

I arrived home from the University of Iowa late Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, I mostly tried to unpack my belongings (to which I think about packing back up in about two weeks). Then, on Thursday, we went to town. Since I had been confined in my fourth-floor room with my car several miles away, I was unable to do any Christmas shopping. Since I didn't have too long until Christmas, she accompanied me into town to make my purchases.

Though we did visit the mall and several other stores, the first place we went to was the Old Market. Beautifully coated with a blanket of snow, the Old Market is spectacular in the winter, especially during Christmas. Vendors peddle fresh evergreen wreaths while cellists brave the cold to entertain the passerby. The brick streets rumble beneath the cars' tires, and the horse-drawn carriages rocking-ly pass over them, their "sleigh bells jingling." The trees at 11th and Howard are bedecked in lights, and icicles hang from the ancient eaves constructed when the city was first built.

I love it; I cannot wait to spend New Year's Eve there.

However, during this trip to the Old Market, I was on a particular mission. Though it did not end being completely successful, my mom and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we visited two vintage clothes shops (named "Retro" and "The Flying Worm" respectively), an antique store, and the renowned candy store on Howard Street. We also ventured through Tannenbaum, which is the infamous year-round Christmas store. (My mom had been searching for an olive wood nativity for me, but, alas, they were out of stock.)





The shared entrance to Retro and Joe's


Retro


Compared to this past summer, Retro did not have very many clothes.


The Bill Cosby/Christmas Sweater sale at The Flying Worm


That's my mom!


Rings (with European sizes) at The Flying Worm




Old Market Candy Shop (the animated raccoons atop the Jelly Bellies are a Christmas decorating tradition)




Journal 20

I want to let you all know that I am heading home today! I am incredibly excited to get back home and enjoy Christmas there with my mom. She is supposed to be arriving at my dorm in about an hour to help me finish packing up and moving out. (I suppose that means I should get out of my sweatpants and start packing...) Anyway, the main reason I mention this is because--when I get home--I probably won't have Internet access. Given that I will not be back to a computer until early January, it may be awhile until you hear from me again.

Anyway, this is the last journal that I wrote for acting class, and I thought I would put it up here, too. It was supposed to be a reflective journal that answered the question "There is a journey within every act, every scene, every moment. What has been your journey within this class?" I went a little abstract, but still delighted in reading it aloud to the class.

It’s Sunday morning, not yet 10:30, and I sit at my computer, typing. I’m in clothes that I have been wearing for two days, and the dishes from my last several meals sit encrusted together to my right, as I am too indolent to carry them the ten steps into the kitchen and place them in my too-small sink. I’m tired; I haven’t slept in three days. If I were to mix that with the anxiety of final exams and the disappointment and guilt that I have felt this past week in that large, blue mixing bowl I’m using for prop, I’m exhausted. And yet...I’m so close to finishing. I’m so close to being done with what I consider to be a huge academic waste of time. Even now, as I compose this journal, I wish I could write it differently. I wish I could do away with all of the “I,” “I,” “I,” selfish, first-person point of view. I am so conditioned to writing academically that I can’t analyze myself properly; I need to take on the role of the omniscient narrator in order to completely and accurately examine why I do the things I do. Furthermore, that third-person, that “epiphanal” viewpoint doesn’t get uncomfortable. It can say what it needs to said—make observations and discoveries that, if I were to say them, would make me feel belittled or inadequate. Rather, the subjective voice I give myself creates a story—one in which I finally don’t have to worry about characterization because, well, it’s already there.

Wrapped in a fleece blanket and perched on her computer chair, she dangerously leans over and reaches for her Acting folder that rests atop one of the three neatly-stacked piles of homework she has on the floor. She places the folder on her desk, casually opening it and ruffling through several pages of notebook paper. Though she can recall exactly what the page looks like, she wants to view it again; use it as a reference. There. She finds it, nestled between acting principles and performance histories. My stomach. Drawn during the first day of class, her stomach is an incredibly accurate depiction of all that has nestled within her mucosa, save for the changing semi-nutritional nourishment that is churned within. Butterflies. Anxiety. Pangs. Anger. Jealousy. The only sentiment that she left out is disappointment. It was one that, most likely, she did not recognize at the time. Either that, or she was too afraid to admit it. Too afraid because—like Antigone—she doesn’t want to be seen as vulnerable. She “kind of” knows that she can’t be perfect—can’t be strong—all the time (especially given the size of her heart), but...she’s still a perfectionist.

She thought that, maybe, one of the reasons she was at the University of Iowa this semester would be to learn humility. Admittedly, she might be on her way, given that she has slowly become accustomed to receiving more negative criticism. However, to be knocked off of that pedestal, it is going to take more than acting pointers and her first, in eight years, ‘B’ on an essay. She holds onto the belief that perfectionism is, in fact, both her strength and her weakness. It’s something that she wrote about in her senior reflection four years ago, acknowledging that is has been—and always will be—her greatest setback, as well as her greatest reason to aspire to be something more than everything else she considers to be “mediocre.”

She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she “grows up.” When people ask her, her response is often, “I’m not sure yet, because I know I will always change my mind.” An accurate observation; her chronic indecisiveness and sporadic impulsiveness always lead her into unpredictable and unexpected situations. However, she holds fast to the belief that “every opportunity is a learning experience,” and, in believing so, desperately searches for some meticulous point, a minute sentence or phrase or tidbit that she can absorb, reflect upon, and always remember. Sadly, this semester, only two of her classes provided such an opportunity. One, not-so-surprisingly, was Jewish-American Literature. The other, of course, was Acting. However, what she learned in Acting wasn’t necessarily something that she can apply directly to her own theatre experience. Moreover, what she found and decided to hold onto was something that can be examined and smiled upon every day, rather than only be applied to some specific aspect of only one of her passions. If I’m really motivated, if I really want something, then I’m unstoppable. That sentence is the only things she needs to remind herself; the only phrase that she can inwardly smile about when, upon being asked what “she wants to do,” she can truthfully and happily answer, “I want to live happily ever after.”

Straight No Chaser

Earlier this week, I braved the early-arriving blizzard to see Straight No Chaser, who performed at the Iowa Memorial Union. Having purchased a ticket more than a month ahead of time, I had been eager to go to the concert, but was unsure of whether or not I would have the time to, given that this past week has been "Hell Week." However, I went against my better judgment of bad weather and homework to attend the concert, which was two hours very well spent.

This picture was taken from Straight No Chaser's Facebook page. I can actually see myself. I am in the right-hand group of people, smack in the middle of the masses.


From the moment they walked out singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," they enraptured us and, throughout the performance, always maintained a light-hearted, entertaining atmosphere. They laughed along with us as they joked about the weather, Kwanza, "White Chocolate," a 12-Step Program for basses wishing to sing tenor, and Chanukah (which happens to be today, and so I wish my Jewish friends a wonderful holiday).

Going through a set list that included Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "Africa" by Men at Work, and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," the men of Straight No Chaser surprised us all when, after intermission, they immediately broke into "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse.

My only actually "good" picture; pretty much everything is blurry, sadly.


Of course, it wouldn't have been a Straight No Chaser concert without their Christmas songs. Performing "Carol of the Bells," "Christmas Can Can," "Indiana Christmas," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," one of the highlights was performance of "We Three Kings" in 5-4 time.

Now, I'm not much of a musician at all, but I do know the difference between meters. However, when one of the members stepped up to explain what the group planned to do, the audience remained silent. Several people around me nodded their heads, but the majority frowned, befuddled.

"Wow," he said, laughing into the microphone. "I have never before
heard confusion."

And, just in case you want to listen to that specific song, I have provided a link to Straight No Chaser's website/blog.

Furthermore, here is a link to another spot on that same site; it is an animated video of "Christmas Can Can."

After the concert, I hung around in the lobby for several minutes, anxious to get autographs. Fellow acquaintances that also attended the concert also waited with me, all discussing the increasingly-nasty weather outside. Already it looked as if two inches had fallen in the time we had been indoors. However, we were soon in a line to receive autographs.

"Hi," I said cheerily, greeting the first of ten members of the group. "I hope you're enjoying your time here despite the weather."

He smiled. "Yeah, yeah! It was great; it was a lot of fun. Thanks for having us!"

He finished signing his name above his picture and passed the playbill down.

"When do you leave?" I asked, decidedly choosing to hold a conversation since the line wasn't advancing too far too fast.

"Uhh...tonight, actually."
"We go to Kansas." The guy next to him cut him off.

"Oh, jeez! So...you'll be driving INTO the storm!"

They laughed. "Hopefully we'll be fine."

Moving on down the line, I informed another member that originally attended Purdue University, which happens to be the rival school of Indiana University, where Straight No Chaser originated.

The guy currently signing my playbill immediately stopped and slammed his pen down. "I quit! Not for you!" He slid the playbill off the table toward me as the rest of us laughed.

"So sorry!" I exclaimed, bending down to pick up my book and handing it back.

As I neared the end of the line, my friend and I compared three of the members' identical ties, teasing them on their differing knots. Tyler Trepp, a fellow Iowan, was the last member to sign my playbill before wishing me a "good night."


My friends and I parted, and I began my slow trudge outside and up the Pentacrest to the nearest bus stop. Freezing, I inched my way up the hill in the snow, blinking the painful, pelting flakes from my eyes.

I smiled. It was worth it.

For those of you that don't immediately recognize the name Straight No Chaser, I reccommed that you check out this video. It became immensely popular on YouTube and is now their signature song. (At the concert I attended, they performed it as the first of a two-song encore.) It is also the song that I am "currently listening to."

I Wrote It My Way

My friend Lee and I established months ago that our Introduction to English class is a waste of time. As such, we decided to have a little fun (once again) while in lecture earlier this morning.

At the beginning of class, all of the approximately 200 people in lecture received a sheet on "Figurative Language," the back of which was splayed with numerous vocabulary words pertaining to poetry.

There was a large chunk of information blandly written on the front of the sheet, discussing how readers should become aware of an author's figurative language and how it exercises our imagination through the use of metaphors. (You know, basic "English stuff" that has already been exhausted in the three and a half years I have taken classes.)

Anyway, Lee and I decided to "rewrite" the paragraph. He grabbed a pen from his bag, and I reached for the pencil behind my ear. Together, we collaborated; we edited out full sentences, disregarded certain phrases, and picked out specific words to keep until, in the end, we had formed one extensive, complicated sentence:

Images that engage a writer generate lamb's wool with hair likened to the harmony of a creation of the child's divine God of a metaphor.

(That's from about 200 or so words of text that describe William Blake's poem "The Lamb.")


Below the newly-mutilated paragraph were excerpts from various poems, movies, and books. We, of course, came up with different variations, combining each of the works together.


Simile: A direct, explicit comparison of one thing to another, and usually using the words "like" or "as" to draw the connection.

Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper.--Elizabeth Bishop, "The Fish"

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests, snug as a gun. --Seamus Heaney, "Digging"

But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy. -- Theodore Roethke, "My Papa's Waltz"

Metaphor: One thing pictured as if it were something else, suggesting a likeness or analogy between them.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. --Psalm 23

they brows an infant crown --William Blake "A Cradle Song"

Life is like a box of chocolates. --Forrest Gump


The final result?

Ancient wallpaper, snug as a gun
Hung on like death:
Waltzing between
The shepherd; a box of chocolates.

Yes, we are that terribly immature. We giggled the entire length of lecture, disregarding what our lecturer was saying about postcolonial literature. Instead, our shenanigans at rewriting the study guide took a more serious turn, and we ended with this summary; one taken from the definition and examples of personification:

All hands on deck,
Treating an abstraction
As if it were a person,
Endowing it with the stars
And watered heaven.

Christmas List?

I can imagine that there are some children--tummies full of delicious, home-cooked delicacies--who are intent on writing down their Christmas wish lists Thanksgiving evening. I can imagine their mother handing them a sheet of paper and a pencil (or, perhaps, a crayon) while their father encourages them to think of what they want for Christmas. I can picture their petite bodies stretched upon the floor, their fingers desperately clutching said pencil or pen or crayon or marker, eagerly scribbling what their precious hearts long for.

I was never one of those children. Divorced since I was ten months old, my parents have had their own methods of discovering what I wanted for Christmas.

When I was younger, for instance, I'm sure my dad put more effort into finding me toys. Surprisingly, and yet truthfully, one of my favorite Christmas mornings was a year I spent at my dad's house. I was six, in first grade, and was an avid fan of The Lion King. Having seen the movie in theaters, I had memorized several of the hit songs and had my own stuffed "Nala" to sleep with. When I awoke Christmas morning to the sounds of my step-siblings yelling for my brother and I to wake up, I eagerly jumped out of bed and raced up the steps (we were sleeping on the lower level; the "fireplace floor") to the large, over-sized Christmas tree. There was no need to scan over Santa's presents for my brother and step-brother and sister, for my eyes immediately latched onto what had been reserved for me: a stuffed "Simba" and a giant, two-and-a-half-foot long "Mufasa."

I'm sure that "Santa" knew to leave because my mother had informed him of what to purchase.

However, as I got older, my dad's side of the family conferred less frequently with my mother (not they ever really did in the first place). By the time I was eight or nine, my mother no longer held whispered phone calls in another room. Rather, my dad's family took to purchasing what they thought I should have. I no longer received fifteen Beanie Babies or five LEGO kits or a giant Barbie van. Rather, I was given enormous, decorative pins; turtlenecks (which I utterly despised at the time), clothes that were either too small or too ugly to wear; heirlooms (which I didn't appreciate), and adornments for my hair (which, to this day, I never bother with).

One of two strange gifts I received from my dad's family included a seashell-shaped sound machine that, with its haunting echoes of a thunderstorm, chirping birds, and heartbeat, never lulled me to sleep. The other gift, which I received at the age of nine, was a book of Emily Dickinson poetry. My aunt, apparently disillusioned to Miss Dickinson's eccentricities, "loved" her work. She lightly spoke of it then, which, today, gives me the impression that my aunt may not recognize the "depressing" themes that emerged in Dickinson's works once she locked herself in the attic (allegedly).

My mother, however, has always been more tactful. I can remember when, during the years we lived in "the yellow house," she would hand me the two-pound JC Penny cataloge and instruct me to circle "anything I wanted." At five years old, I would flip through the entire magazine, examining each page thoroughly before, finally, reaching the toys at the back. My eyes would glow, my heart would race, and my sparkling smile would calculate what toys would be reasonable. I would spend hours on end scrutinizing the dolls, the doll-houses, the coloring sets, and, of course, the Barbies. Ultimately, I would circle three or four things in the magazine, telling myself that "a few things" was reasonable and unselfish.

Those were the years that my family didn't have a lot of money. Openly discussing our situation with my brother and I, we were all aware of our poorness. And yet, each Christmas morning, each item that I had marked in that JC Penny catalog would be waiting for me; a gift from "Santa." At the time, I believed in "Christmas magic," and was awed by the sights of my heart's desires.

Today, however, when I think of the sacrifices my mother made to keep her children overwhelmingly joyful, tears well in my eyes. She has never failed me, not once.

Having raised me, she knows me incredibly well, and can anticipate whether or not I will like a gift. I know my critical attitude makes me a hard person to please, and--as a result--she struggles in finding me the "right" thing. This year, for instance, she took it upon herself to collaborate with A. and purchase a camera for me. As it turned out, the camera that she bought was not quite what I was looking for. She had been so eager to purchase one for me, as I had been forever complaining about my broken flash and use of AA batteries. However, when she went to buy the actual camera, she made the mistake of being talked into purchasing a specific one by a salesperson.

My poor mother; she tries so desperately hard, and I truly appreciate it. In fact, I love her for it. I only wish that she would not let her impulsiveness (which I inherited, by the way) take over her, especially during the Christmas shopping season.

When I talk to my mom on the phone about Christmas presents, she always tells me that she has "no idea what to get [me]". In reality, though, I think she does. I know she doesn't wish for me to tell her exactly what I want; after all, it isn't a surprise then. She wants to be just as excited as I am when I open my present and realize the time and money it took for her to purchase it. That's probably why the only specific things I told her I needed were...socks and underwear.

However, that's not to say that my mother doesn't know what she's doing. She knows exactly what she's doing. Her only intent is to make me happy and, honestly, I can say that just being in her presence this holiday season will be enough for me. After last Christmas, any joy I feel this year will be astronomical.

Hebetudinous

Compared to Lee, my sleep-deprivation was minimal. To my left, he sat in his usual lecture chair (number nine), comatose. Each arm was balanced upon the licorice-thin arm rests, and the lips surrounding his slightly agape mouth twitched. Bedecked in jeans and a gray sweater, he sat. Sat and stared at the platform's crevice, the one at which the floor and wall diverged into a sharp crook of damaged baseboards.

I rigidly sat upright, my back parallel to the seat. I was clothed in an array of faded items from my junior year of high school, and my brown hair was hastily pulled into a ponytail. Just half an hour prior, I had forced my corneas to bear my contacts, albeit my eyes were already bloodshot from my obvious lack of slumber. I was still wearing my winter coat and, as I crossed my legs (left over right, of course), I absentmindedly placed my hands in my lap. I glanced at Lee, who acknowledged my awareness with a tic.

My only response was to raise an eyebrow. My lethargy prevented me from asking questions of him, which is what I usually do. Rather, I relied on my other senses--mostly sight and smell--to reach a conclusion. Firstly, I paid heed to Lee's somnolent expression, expecting drool to soon pool out of the corners of his still-open mouth. He reminded me of Sweeney Todd; specifically during the beach scene in which Mrs. Lovett sings "By the Sea."

After absorbing the sight of him, I breathed deep. Lee, having turned twenty-one just over a month ago, is now able to embrace his alcoholism legally. As he does not have class on Tuesday, he often arrives to Wednesday morning lecture hung-over and sleepy, reeking of the stuff. This time, however, I was surprised; the remnants of liquor was non-existent.

Just as I opened my mouth to ask him how his weekend was, Lee's baritone rang out.

"I didn't sleep."

I shook my head. "What? You mean, at all?"

His eyes widened even more. "No," he said, still staring forward. "I didn't sleep." His eyes twitched a few times. "But I have had a lot of coffee," he proclaimed in his mockingly froggy falsetto.

I smiled. "You need to sleep."

"No. I just need more coffee," he insisted.

I shook my head and turned my attention to the front, where our professor was currently struggling with the projection screen.

"I wonder what it is going to do today," I said to him, alluding to the fact that the screen is an extra hassle the professor argues with each lecture. Sure enough, the screen--which happens to drop in front of an additional, apparently unsatisfactory, white screen--repeatedly disregarded all technical instructions and began to move up and down on its own accord. Relenting to the drop-down screen several minutes later, our professor decided to go with the already bright, blank background provided.

I sighed indifferently, reaching into my bag for my notes.

Lee, who had been laughing hysterically at the "Screen Skirmish," abruptly stopped giggling and faked hyperventilation. "What do you think lecture is about today?" he asked.

I gave him the eyebrow.

Unblinking, Lee nodded. "I agree with you. It's definitely about robot porn."

I grinned and turned to him. "You are so much more fun when you're drunk on enervation."

The Most Important Things in Life Aren't Things

I just got off the phone with my mother, whom I have been talking to for the last hour and half. This is pretty typical; I'm sure that I could have hung on the phone with her for awhile longer. Honestly, she is used to speaking to me relatively frequently. Having said that, when I don't call her for two or three days, she tracks me down and asks me how things are.

I know she does this because she is lonely. She is the only occupant in an otherwise empty house, save for furniture and Ollie, my "psycho kitty." Her entire life has been devoted to my brother and I, so now that he has settled into an apartment and full-time job, and I am in college, she is...well, lost.

I certainly understand, and I appreciate hearing from her. My only annoyances are: one, that it may take up to half an hour to hang up the phone, even after repeatedly saying, "I need to go," and two, that I have nothing interesting to say. My mother isn't the type of overprotective, overbearing mother that always wants to know every nitty-gritty detail. When A. comes and visits, for instance, she only wants to make sure that I had a wonderful time. Anything I share beyond that is something she insists she "doesn't need to know." That's not to say she doesn't appreciate me talking to her, however.

I can say that I am, at least, somewhat disappointed that I am not going home for Thanksgiving. In an ideal situation, my brother would be there to celebrate this American feast-fest with us. However, my mother and I have found that Keith often sacrifices his time with us to be with his girlfriend's family; and, admittedly, this is becoming increasingly upsetting for us. My mother, unfortunately, has never had a holiday to herself. When Keith and I were younger, we always had to be shipped off to my dad's house to celebrate Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas, which was always on Christmas Eve, and not subject to negotiation. The same goes for Thanksgiving and Easter.

I feel sorry for her, and I feel incredibly guilty about the fact that I am, once again, not going to be home for this holiday. Though my mother claims that "it doesn't matter" that I will be in Indiana, I think it does. I think that, in a way, she is lying to be via the omission of underlying feelings. However, I know that--even if I were to go home this weekend--Keith would still not be there. He will, of course, be spending his time elsewhere.

I believe this led my mother to suggest spending Christmas in Indiana. "It always means so much to you," she said. "And I know this is your first Christmas with A., so maybe you could just go there for Christmas and spend the holiday there."

I nearly burst into tears; I was so surprised at what she was saying. Though she wishes for me to think over the idea, I know that I won't. As I told her repeatedly over the phone, "No. I'm coming home."

It is very frustrating. She doesn't need to sacrifice any more holidays. Sadly, however, my brother won't even be there on Christmas, either. He'll be with his girlfriend, of course. I don't think he realizes how much it hurts mom that she isn't able to spend the holidays with the two things she loves most.

The highlight of the conversation with my mother was towards the beginning, when she announced that she was "drugged up." Having recently gotten sick (via a cough inherited from her mother), my mom went out and spend some money on OTC drugs, not possessing enough to actually make a visit to the doctor's office.

As such, when she first answered the phone, my mom was quite drowsy and a little "out of it."

"Yeah, you sound pretty tired," I said. "I hope I didn't wake you up."

"No, no. You didn't do that. The cat keeps jumping on my chest anyway. I'm just really drowsy." With the upward inflection, I could picture her trying to widely open her eyes. "I really just shouldn't be driving any heavy machinery right now."

"Ah, yes. That would be bad." I nodded, despite the fact that she couldn't see me. "Well, don't drive the couch too far, then."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that. I've already been to hell and back with this stuff." She sniffed. "And once you've been to hell and back in heavy machinery, you're pretty pooped."

I Am the Coy Mistress

She is sitting in the chair at her desk, the blue, fleece blanket a friend made draped over her knees. Her desk is an array of items: an empty bottle of Mountain Dew, the keys to her car, her wallet, highlighters, and a dishwasher-safe cup from students representatives of "Avoid the Stork." Her hair, wet from a recent shower, is pulled back into a ponytail, and she dons her glasses. Elbows on the keyboard tray, she rests her chin in her hands as she reads seventeenth-century poetry.

My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on they forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest:
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.

Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" plays through her head, the gentle compassion of the notes lightly grazing her senses. Her hands move to the keyboard, fingers poised as if the ebonies and ivories rest beneath them, rather than the alphabet. Dipping her head in rhythm with the imagined sonata, her fingers strike each key with deliberation.

"To His Coy Mistress..."

She inhales, sighing deeply. Beethoven isn't the only man on her mind. She is always thinking of someone else--a person whom she has been dating for nearly six months. Things moved quickly at first, she admits, laughing again at the idea of spending the night together after only eighteen days of knowing each other.

Now, however, when talk turns to commitment and marriage, she shies away from the subject. An innocent night spent together watching "Pulp Fiction" does not compare to Hedda Gabler's "everlasting train ride." She wonders how he can expect full commitment when dating itself is somewhat of a game. The phrases "playing the field" and "going fishing" had to come from somewhere. Furthermore, she realizes, it is difficult to commit herself to someone who has, more than once, lost her respect and trust. A paradox, perhaps? He wants commitment before he sacrifices something. She nods in silent agreement, distressingly gnawing on her fingernails. But what about trust? A relationship is a commitment, yes, but a relationship is based on trust. No trust equals no commitment.


All the same, that doesn't detract from the fact that, this past weekend, she spent three hours watching "Say Yes to the Dress" with her mother, discussing what she wants for her wedding. Black tie affair? Outdoor wedding? Location? Her mother even ventured to ask the when, where, who, what, why, and how of a potential union to A. Vague in her answers, the daughter somewhat skirts around the questions, anxious to respond. She is afraid; she struggles to even be honest with herself. Her mind blocks any acceptance of this notion at this time.

Not without trust. No more broken promises.

Successfully demolishing the nails on her left hand, she returns to Andrew Marvell's satire.

For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

The buzz of her phone interrupts the iambic pentameter. She stares at it, chin once again resting in her left hand. One sigh and two blinks later, she reaches with her free hand, fingers clutching the device and sliding it open to read the message.

I can't get you off my mind! I miss you so much.

..........................................she is at a loss for words.

Melodrama

It has been awhile, I will admit. Lately, I have found it difficult to visit my blog, let alone post anything amidst my midterm exams, theater productions, and "miscellaneous activities." It has certainly been hectic. However, being able to spend a few minutes and quickly compose this message does not mean that I am, in a sense, "back." Though I have several different topics I would love to bring up in separate blog posts, I am afraid that I do not have the time.

I never have the time.

Secondly, I haven't been "in the mood" for writing. I have lost my motivation. Part of this is due to the fact that I have, for the first time in seven years, received a "B" on an essay. What? This does not happen to me! I'm a perfectionist; I'm an English major! I'm a senior in college! What happened?!? I am desperately trying to keep a 4.0, but I feel as if my attempts at participating in class are pointless. My instructors seem to desire more from me--something I cannot supply them with. I am disgusted with my classes, sick of being discouraged. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that part of being an English major is learning about how to read, analyze, deconstruct, and interpret literature to your own--my own--personal understanding. Here, however, that does not seem to be the case. Rather, I should be on the same wavelength as my instructors--ones whose opinions I disagree with entirely too often. What further frustrates me is the fact that my instructor asks for ridicule and disagreement, questioning my opinions about the reading. When I begin to explain my understanding, she interrupts, saying, "Well, I don't think so. You'll have to convince me."

Yes--because I have to convince you. She flat-out refuses to understand. Only if I fully convince her to believe my argument will she consider my interpretation.

I am frustrated. I am tired. I am not happy.

I am...wishing for something more. Something better. I want to rationalize my faith and know, for certain, that my prayers will be answered. I can pray that I will make the most out of the time I left at Iowa. I can pray that my loan application will be accepted. I can pray for patience as I wait to hear about my loan. I can pray that I will go back to Indiana smoothly. I can pray for wisdom and guidance and understanding in my relationship with A. I can pray for my friends, who are struggling right now. I can pray for my brother and his new job. I can pray that I will have the time and strength to be able to go home this weekend for Halloween.

But that faith...? That faith isn't married to anything--the pillars of uncertainty remain standing for quite some time.

And, sadly, as I write this entry in a computer lab in the Main Library, I have tears welling in my eyes. "Why is that?" you ask.

I smirk, glance down at the table. What is there to articulate? There have been a lot of new experiences within the last few months, but there has been an equal amount of pain. In fact, since December last year, my life has dramatically--but not radically--changed. Like everyone has done, or will do, I have reached the point where, had you sat me down in a chair on December 19, 2008 and told me where I was going to be at this time, I would credulously laughed.

N. and I wouldn't be together anymore? No way--we've been dating for more than three years. Can't happen.

I'm going to be going to school in Iowa? You've got to joking me! I HATE the in-state universities!

A Theatre major/minor? Really? I have the gall to do that?

I finally start to realize what is wrong about myself and attempt to correct it? Unbelievable. Me-a stubborn illusionist that often paints false images much too well-is going to find some confidence?

I date a conservative Hoosier and allow him to call me Cornstalk? I innocently share my bed with him after only three weeks of knowing him--and weeks before we share our first kiss? I let him tell me what's wrong with myself and attempt to correct things, though I know I can always do better? (And, paradoxically, knowing that I won't be perfect.)

I actually look at wedding dresses for absolutely "no reason" and realize that I like lace?
Wow. Am I that serious? Must be; I just spent two hours talking to my mom Friday night about when/why/where/what/how I would like my wedding to be.

Can I articulate
anything? Somewhat, yes...but not the important things. Not the things that slowly eat away at my conscious, nibble their way into my dreams and cause me to wake up either gasping, screaming, or crying?

Sometimes in the middle of the night, amidst the noise of the drunken eighteen-year-olds stumbling down the hallway and into their rooms, I wonder what it is that bothers me so much. Is it the immature, drunken atmosphere? The "I'm-smarter-than-you-and-am-the-all-knowing-omnipotent-professor" learning environment? The fact that I have to split Thanksgiving and Christmas between two different states? The realization that the best friendships I had in high school seem to fade? The fact that I am afraid to tell anyone that I keep changing my mind--that I don't know what I want because I don't take the time to look deep enough into anything? The fact that, as much as I preach to others about not taking "the easy way out," I often do it myself? The fact that, even though I can--and do--get everything I want, that I feel lonely and unsatisfied?

That reminds me of the time when my mother told me about Marilyn Monroe. I was around eight or nine at the time, and had just seen her picture on television. I had recognized it, but didn't really know who she was. "She was an actress," my mom answered. "A very beautiful actress. I don't know if she was necessarily too smart, but she was beautiful. In a sense, she had everything going for her. She could have everything she wanted...but she was never happy enough." That thought haunted me for a long time; it still does.

No wonder I'm an insomniac. For those nights when I can't sleep, or when I wake up scared--afraid that I will end up alone, unhappy, and unsatisfied, I console the giant, red, annotated Oxford English Bible I keep next to my nightstand. I'll read a few psalms, calms my nerves with the Gospels. It's only when I turn my light back and settle back down into my nest of pillows that my thoughts come racing back. Unsettled, I sit up and flip over the pillow directly beneath my head. I bury my nose into the center of it, inhaling the cologne that A. sprayed there two weeks ago. Slowly exhaling, I flip the pillow back, wanting to preserve the scent as long as I can.

Sighing perhaps a little too deeply, I nestle in. Am I okay?

Jesse Morrell--Part 3

The next day, Wednesday, I passed through the Anne Cleary walkway again. I was, of course, on my way to eat lunch. It wasn’t incredibly busy that hour, and the path was nearly deserted. However, Morrell was still there, quietly pacing around the corner of the retaining wall. As I neared him, I slowed down to directly ask him a question.

“How long are you going to be in Iowa City?” I asked. I had taken the time to look at his website and had read that his focus for preaching was college campuses.

“Umm,” he looked up at the sky, the reflection of his glasses shielding his eyes from me. “I think until Friday night.”

“All right. Thank you very much,” and I was on my way. I had already begun formulating what I wanted to say to him.

Two days later—after a one-day hiatus because of the rain—Jesse Morrell was back at it, preaching against homosexuals and feminists.

"Why feminists, sir?"

"Because they are disobedient, rebellious women!"

This photo was taken by a friend of friend who also attends the University. She allowed me to post it here.

It was Friday, and I knew that it was going to be his last day on campus. As such, I had decided to speak to him directly, and for two reasons: one, Morrell would find it encouraging and accomplishable, and two, it would put my mind into a state of dispassion.


Luckily, as I strolled through the walkway, there was not a plethora of fellow students. Morrell stood with his back to the walkway, conversing with the man in the red sweatshirt who still donned sunglasses, despite the patchy rain. Anxiously, I crept around them, turning to face Morrell, who smiled invitingly at me.

“Hi,” I said a bit nervously. “I guess I...” I laughed a bit nervously. “I guess I just had something I wanted to say.”

“All right then,” he said, avidly paying attention.

“I just...I just wanted you to know that, even though I disagree with a lot of what you are teaching, I really appreciate you coming out here and actually evangelizing.” The smiles on both of their faces grew wide as I continued. “I mean, that is what the New Testament teaches, so I give you guys a lot of credit for doing that, so thank you for getting the word out to people in some way.”

“Why thank you,” Morrell said, bowing his head to me.

“And...yeah. And I hope you guys have a nice day and a wonderful eternity.”

“Well, thank you very much,” he said eagerly. The man in the red sweatshirt gave me a curt nod, but also smiled. “And you as well.”

Jesse Morrell--Part 2

Uninterested in listening to Jesse Morrell preach about the sins of gays and lesbians, I joined a small group that had managed to collect just to the right of him. The small circle was gathered around another man—one in a red sweatshirt and sunglasses who, when asked if he was “with him,” nodded.


Spending time with this man was not necessarily more enjoyable, but it was easier. I could pitch questions to him that he would respectfully answer. Any student who disagreed could then debate with him; sans having to scream vulgarities to get attention. What struck me the most about the conversation we had, however, was the concept of sin—something that, apparently, this man and Jesse Morrell do not have.

As the Bible teaches, as Urban explains, and as I believe—salvation is received by grace from faith alone. I do not believe that I will be given salvation for the things I do, but rather for what Jesus Christ did for me. He died on the cross for my sins, purchasing my redemption in the process. All I have to do is full-heartedly
believe. Urban elaborates. “We can be saved by believing in Him with a true saving faith in our heart and upon believing, our sins forgiven and receive the perfect righteousness of God.”

Salvation is, by far, the greatest gift that a Christian could receive.

According to Morrell, however, salvation is conditional—it is achieved only in a state of sinless perfection. As Urban phrases it, “one has to completely stop sinning in order to be justified before God.” Sounds like Moral Government Theology to me.

“Wait,” said a young black man in the circle. “So...you don’t sin?”

Morrell’s comrade shook his head. “No.”

Bewildered, the rest of us in looked at each other. “Aren’t we all human, though?” I asked tentatively. “Don’t we all sin?”

Another fellow student joined in. “Yeah, I mean, aren’t we born as sinners? We’re natural; it’s bound to happen. That’s why we ask for forgiveness. That’s why Jesus had to be sent to earth to die for us; he had to die in order for us to receive redemption for all the sins that we commit.”

The guy shook his head. “No. We are not born as sinners—it’s not natural to sin. We are born in a neutral state. Any original sin that existed died with Adam’s sin in the beginning. Sin is a choice.”

We disagreed. “Okay, well, yeah, sin CAN be a choice. However, there are some sins that you don’t recognize until they’re over with. That’s what grace is for. However, we are naturally born sinners.”

The man in the sweatshirt shook his head again, but remained calm. “Why would you choose to sin?” he asked. “Why? I’m not a sinner. I choose not to sin. Therefore, God finds me righteous. A man is only moral perfect when he decides to stop sinning.”

“So why was Jesus crucified?” someone inquired a bit too loudly.

Morrell picked up the answer. “Because,” he proclaimed in his vexatious, tenor voice, “JESUS...is the SAVIOR! He will judge us all!”

Another random person from the crowd yelled back. “But what about you? You’re terrible! You shouldn’t judge our beliefs! And I’m Jewish, by the way!”

Morrell laughed. “No, no, no! It is not for YOU to judge ME. However, I can judge YOU!” A loud echo of ‘boos’ rose up. “I am not a sinner, therefore I can judge the rest of you homosexuals!”

That was enough for me; I stood up from the concrete ledge I had been sitting on and began to walk away from Morrell and his—what I considered to be—blasphemous statements.

However, once back at my dorm, I contemplated Morrell’s motivations. Though I did disagree with practically everything he preached, I admired him for standing up in front of the crowd, actually evangelizing. Though I found several fallacies in his argument, I understood that, for whatever reason, those were his beliefs, and he was doing his best to bring Christianity to unbelievers. He was trying to promote the word of God and bring people closer to personal salvation.

He just had an...interesting...way of doing it.

Jesse Morrell-Part 1

A week ago, I cut through the Pentacrest on my way to lunch. Just as I was about to cross Jefferson Street, a fellow student slowed his bike. "You guys have to check out the crazy Christian guy," he said, peddling past us--five strangers--in the opposite direction. We all looked at each other strangely, craning our necks to look down the Anne Cleary walkway. At first, I only saw a middle-aged man passing out flyers for a Japanese restaurant downtown. I took a flyer from the man as I neared him, absentmindedly thanking him for the paper that I would, ten seconds later, toss into a trash can. It was then I heard him.

"I don't want you sinners in my church! Or you Jews! I only want Christians!"

There he was--Jesse Morrell--standing upon the concrete wall that separates Calvin Hall from the walkway. I drank him in; critiqued the argyle sweater, acknowledged the Bible tucked into his belt. His right hand clasped a banner supported by a holster he wore. It proclaimed in alarmingly yellow letters that "JESUS CHRIST will cast ALL SINNERS into the LAKE OF FIRE on the DAY OF JUDGMENT."


It was the lunch hour, and so the walkway was filled with passing students who yelled insults at Morrell as they walked, or snapped pictures of him. Many immediately pulled out their cell phones to text the absurdities that Morrell had directed at them.

"Why don't you do something productive with your existence?" a young man yelled out from down the walkway. Laughter echoed throughout the buildings, mine included. This guy is nuts, I thought. I know he's evangelizing, but he's...not so nice about it. A resounding, "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!" echoed behind me in response.

That's one way to bring people to Jesus.



As described by Josef Urban on the blog, Grace in the Triad, Jesse Morrell is "an open air preacher and campus speaker who travels around the USA preaching everywhere. He writes somewhat extensively on theological subjects and operates under the banner of the ministry he founded, 'Open Air Outreach'. His influences seem to span wide and far as he is constantly on the move and preaching his version of what he calls 'the gospel'."

This "gospel" that Urban refers to are the "four vital aspects" of Open Air Outreach's evangelism: prayer, tracts and bible distribution, one-on-one, and open-air preaching. The website goes on to explain that "although [they] may also be a part of food and clothing ministries, working on the front lines sharing the unadulterated message of repentance towards God is [their] TOP priority."

Yes...which is why Morrell's zeal for evangelism is frightening. I witnessed him employ un-Scriptural tactics of "shock and awe" preaching. His primary method seems to focus on shouting insults at students, then employing appallingly offensive statements in hopes that a crowd will gather. I give him credit, though; it worked.

The next afternoon, on Tuesday, I deliberately changed my route to pass through the Anne Cleary walkway again, where Morrell was still preaching. I first took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the situation, as a crowd of about fifty or sixty people had gathered. After a few minutes of pretending I was more than an amateur photographer, I stood a ways off from the crowd, next to towering, blond guy in a blue, button-down shirt.

"What do you think of this?" he asked me point-blank.

I laughed and shook my head. "I don't know," I said. "I give him credit for coming out here and evangelizing, though. I mean, that's what we--Christians--are supposed to do. So kudos for that. But I don't think this is necessarily the best way to go about it."

"You're right," the guy said, adjusting his messenger bag. "It's one way to bring people to Jesus. I mean, this is what he wants; he wants a crowd. He wants his word out."

I squinted into the sunlight as I spoke. "I absolutely agree! This is what he's aiming for. That's probably why he hits up all the college campuses--wants to get his opinions to the most people possible. I just think he could find a better tactic."

"Yeah, yelling out insults is certainly not a good one." A fresh dose of laughter from the crowd proved our point.

"Now," I said to the guy, "I don't think that what he is doing is bad. However, I do disagree with about everything he says. I mean, earlier, I was here for about five minutes, and I left after he mentioned that there were 'No orgasms in hell.'" The guy's eyes boggled, and I smiled. "Yeah," I sighed. "I just think it would be more beneficial to sit down with him, one-on-one, and just...talk. I want to see what he believes and why. I don't want to be condemned by him."

The guy nodded, and we both turned our heads back to Jesse, half-listening to him, half-listening to each other. We spoke of our beliefs in Christianity, the churches in Iowa City, and our purpose at the University of Iowa (he was a graduate student in communications). While we talked, a man in the crowd asked Morrell a question, who responded, "Yes, I will answer that; but too BAD you are MISTAKEN!"

"Hey! Why don't you just answer his question instead of insulting him!" someone in the crowd yelled back. Morrell paid no attention.

"LOVE," he preached, "is NOT an emotion! It is a CHOICE!"

Protests rang out. "What? How can you not feel it?" "You can't choose who you love?" "Did you have to choose to love your wife?" "Shut the hell up!" "What? No! If GOD is LOVE, and LOVE is a CHOICE, then GOD is a choice! Maybe I don't want to choose God!" "What about your wife? What about marriage?"

Morell, well-practiced in the art of ignoring inquiries, directed his answer at only the last question. "That’s the problem! People just want to marry for sex! You ask someone, ‘Why are you getting married?’ and they say, “Oh, well, he makes me feel so good,” or “I just love spending time with her.’ And it’s selfish! It's self-centered!"

More protests rung out, but Morrell ignored all of them, moving on to what is probably his favorite topic: homosexuality.

Earthwords Literary Salon--Part 2

One of the most interesting topics discussed, however, was the idea of "plot;" something that I have been over-discussing in both Introduction to English and Playscript Analysis. Teal said that there are several writers today that come up with a simple plot and repeatedly stick to it. "Dan Brown is one of them," he said. "He comes up with the idea that, Character A must accomplish THIS or else character B dies. And then he fits in some things around that to tell his point. And that's basically what all of his novels are."

Honestly, I would have to say that I would agree. Now, I do enjoy Dan Brown novels, don't get wrong. The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are two of my favorites, and I have read a few of Brown's other books. However, his plots are similar--they are always filled with impeccable twists that carry the conception that "I must do this or else something BAD happens."

Teal elaborated. "Stephenie Meyer does the same thing--she is focused on plot. On story-telling. There is no characterization, there are no symbols, and it certainly isn't good literature. It is a good story." (Something I avidly agree with, and also came to the conclusion of after I read the first Twilight book.) Teal went on. "Essentially, all four of her novels are the same. All of them. It's just fluff; that's all."

"So what does that have to say for the people that read those books?" someone asked.

Our heads eagerly turned back to Teal, who explained that books by Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer have a certain audience in mind. "Those novels are written for certain groups of people, and they are geared to market in large quantities. Twilight wouldn't be what it is without throbs of teenage girls. Dan Brown books wouldn't be what they are without easily pleased readers looking for something exciting, but not 'deep.'"

And, once again, I would have to say that I agree. Yes, I have read Dan Brown books. Yes, I have read the entire Twilight series. However, those books aren't considered as high literature caliber. They certainly are not short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, or even novels by Alice Sebold. Rather, those types of books are the McDonald's of literature. For example, do I really love McDonald's? No. Is it enjoyable to eat there every once in awhile? Yes. Sometimes I find myself craving one of their grease patties (hamburgers). Essentially, books by Stephenie Meyer (and like authors) are junk food. Convenient, but not beneficial.

Teal also added a good point. He said that we should NOT be like Dean Koontz and Danielle Steel; the authors who sit down at their computers and pump out a new novel every few months. "They set up a formula for their novels, and they're sticking to it. All they are doing is plunking in new character names and different settings. I mean, look at their books. They are basically all the same thing, and that is because they know what they're doing. As a writer, you guys don't want to know what you're doing. You always want to try for something new; you want to venture out into the deep and explore ideas and concepts that you're not entirely sure of. That's where creativity comes from."

As much as I would have liked to continue listening to Teal, I had to leave early for another meeting. I had been at the literary salon for a little over two hours, spending the first forty-five minutes nibbling on the food provided and receiving feedback on my poetry. Though I was not able to stay the entire length of the salon, I was very glad to received the feedback I did. I was able to speak to a poetry editor who told me that she really enjoyed my elevated use of language in my writing. I smiled in return, well-aware that that element is my poetical trademark. Lines like "cauterize the ordinary," "crinoline of branches," and "territorial yet benign" are just a few of the lines that she pointed it. "I really like these lines," she said. I just thanked her, proud of myself for trying to remain humble. Two poems, "He" and "Necking in the Ford" need a little work; one requires more distinct characterization, and the other requires a stanza to be rewritten to retain the smooth flow. However, she felt that one poem, "A Sense of Shelter" was a finished product, which thrilled me. Leaving early with me, I thanked the editor for her time. "I really appreciate your criticism," I said. "Thank you so much for reading my work."

The next day, Friday (yesterday), I went ahead and submitted "A Sense of Shelter" to Earthwords, which is currently looking for submissions up until the fifteenth of this month. I also submitted four photographs, as encouraged by a friend who also happens to be an editor at Earthwords.

Overall, I was thrilled to receive outside criticism, and I was glad to hear that I was, for lack of better terminology, "on the right track." I was given specific advice of things to work on, and I am eager to aspire to two more finished poems. I plan to work on them soon, hopefully submitting them to another literary magazine that runs out of the University.
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