Thursday, July 2, 2015

Quite Some Time

Dear Whoever You Might Be,


      Three years, to the date, I started this blog. In honor of this occasion, I reread my first post (Click here to read first post ), and was a wee bit nostalgic. I found that back in the day, when I was venturing into the blogosphere, I was much *more* articulate. I wrote much more about literature, movies, and quoted You've Got Mail basically every other sentence. Reading back made me smile, and made me wonder where I should take my blog from here...
      With not blogging as much as I used to, and not nearly as much as I wish I could, I wonder why I still do it. I know for sure that a few loving family members dedicate a few minutes of their time whenever I post a new post, but is that enough to maintain? Am I still doing this for myself?  My original point was : "To say all the thoughts that I wish I could have said in the moment. The words that I have to hold back with the risk of offending someone. The words that a lot of people cannot express in an eloquent manner." Just quoted myself right there, and I am forced to consider those words. Am I actually saying all the things I wish I could say on a daily basis? If anyone should have the answer to that, it should be me.
      Since I have been aggressively reading Steinbeck all summer, I figure I better quote him:
                                              "The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important
                                                thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he
                                                knows it is not true"
Now, I do not necessarily consider myself a "writer." Most of the time, I do not even consider myself a legitimate blogger. I consider legitimate bloggers the ones who have an internet presence. I consider writers to be artists, craftsmen who are dedicated every single day to their work. Believe you me, I am not dedicated every single day to my work. My research work, yes. My "writing," not so much. Would I love to spend my days, sitting proper at a writing table, typing or scribbling away at the next great American novel...or great novel...or novel...or even a few consecutive pages of some sort of story. So, why don't I?
      If I ever want to be a writer, or even a "legitimate blogger," I have to do as Steinbeck says; I have to believe that what I am doing is the most important thing in the world. I have to believe that fairies are dancing and mermaids are swimming and that the little piggies really are flying. I have to write more often, even if I feel lazy and just want to lay in bed in my fuzzy socks, re-watching Gilmore Girls reruns for the umpteenth time. Maybe I need to mix up my Steinbeck reading with some occasional fluff and nonsense to get the creative juices flowing down the brain river.
      I guess, at the end of the day, if I want to write, I shall write. If I don't, I shan't. If there is one reader, thank you. If there is a plethora, than you all dear readers deserve a medal for sticking around the past three years. Cheers to you all. I shall have a cup of Earl Grey in your honor.


                                                                        Sincerely,
                                                                                Me

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer With #theStein

Dear Whoever You Might Be,

      June 1st is going to be here very soon. For many kids, that means just a few more weeks of school left. For some, it means the start of summer camp or swim lessons. For most adults, this date is just another Monday at the office. For me, it is the official (well, official in the capacity that I determined so) start date for my summer research project. Woooh!
      Earlier this spring, I applied for a research grant through my department for this summer. The research could be anything of my choosing, and it was up to me to determine what kind of outcomes I want by the time fall semester rolls around. Naturally, I chose the one and only John Steinbeck as the topic of my proposal. After being thrilled to be awarded the grant, John Steinbeck will become the topic of my summer.
      It's funny to me, really. At the beginning of my graduate school time, I scoffed at research. After learning about how much politic and expectation went into the research aspect of an academic career, I was really turned off by the idea of devoting countless hours a day to researching something, and then being expected to produce innovative work stemming from that research. I was all, "I like the books -not the things people say about the books." I stuck up my nose at the elitists who put more energy into research than other things. How I came to such a drastic change of mind, leading me to apply for a research grant, I can honestly say that I'm not sure.
      All I can say at this point is that I do love John Steinbeck. I love his writings, both fiction and nonfiction. I love his philosophies and ways of looking at the people and the life around him. I think he is brilliant, and I am moved by his books. I'm sure some of you remember when I was working on my undergraduate senior thesis; I was focusing on East of Eden and The Brothers Karamazov. At the time, I would have definitely declared that Dostoevsky was favored over Steinbeck in my literary heart. Now, I am not sure I can truthfully proclaim such a thing. I still love and adore and cherish Dostoevsky... but I could never legitimately study him/his works on an academic level (because I do not speak, read, or understand Russian in the slightest). Because of this, Dostoevsky must fall under the category of "fun reading."
      Now, as I am halfway through my Master's studies, I can reveal that I can see myself studying Steinbeck for the duration of my academic career. Very few scholars actually take his works seriously, and I am one of them. Since the 1950s, there have been less than 70 dissertations written on Steinbeck, compared to his contemporary William Faulkner, with almost 700 written on him. I want to change this. I want people to reconnect with Steinbeck. To see his works as imperative in understanding humans, just as Steinbeck intended. I want him to be studied and revered and remembered for more than the summer reading lists of middle and high school. He is more than The Red Pony. More than The Grapes of Wrath. I see this, and I intended to spend my summer trying to help others see it too.


                                                                        Sincerely,
                                                                                  Me

Friday, April 17, 2015

It Matters

Dear Whoever You Might Be,


      "Everyone who has seriously studied literature knows that the mental process involved is as          coherent and progressive as the study of science. A precisely similar training of the mind takes place, and a similar sense of the unity of the subject is built up"    --- Northrop Frye


      Sometimes I wonder if what I am currently doing with my life has any significance at all. I graduated college with a degree in English, and I am currently working on my Master's degree in English Literature. Ask anyone what this means, and they will say "oh, she's going to be a teacher." There exists an automatic assumption that the study of literature can only lead to the teaching of literature. Once a bookish person, always a bookish person.
      So many people, *SO MANY PEOPLE,* look down upon literary studies as an illegitimate field of study. People who save lives for a living, people who protect our country from terrorism, people who work and work and work in business and spend their whole lives in the consumption and spending of money. There is nothing remotely wrong with these people, and yet so often, they think there is something wrong with us "lit-nerds."
      I admit, sometimes I feel guilty about how I spend my days. I read most of the day. Books, research articles, papers. I read, and a lot of times, I do so from my bed. Or couch. Or poolside. In my pajamas. While the TV is on in the background. Etc. Etc. Etc. I can take my work with me to the beach or park. Plane, train, automobile. I am not restrained by a 9-5 cubicle job. I do not answer to a CEO, or leave messages with a secretary. I do not wear a uniform. I do not save lives.
      But this does not mean that what I do doesn't matter, or that it isn't justified, or fair....
      For as long as I can remember, I have been told that the brain is split between math/science and art/creativity. That my brain, that all brains, are programmed for emphasis on one or the other. I have always immediately turned towards the art side. It made the most sense. I read books. I like museums. I am a romantic. But being in graduate school has taught me that I am more than a book-nerd. The art of studying literature is not even an art... it is a science.
      I have to think critically. Make observations. Make hypothesis. Make a claim and defend my argument. I have to look for evidence, both obvious and subtle. I have to trace patterns and trajectory of thought. And then, after doing all this, I have to pull a 30+ page research paper out of my ass and explain all of this. People think these skills belong in a laboratory. In an office. In a courtroom. In an ER. What they forget is that being able to think, being able to observe, and reflect are skills that belong everywhere and belong to everyone. What I do matters because I can use these skills that I have been trained for in my every day life. I can look at the world around me and process. I can absorb and reflect. I am using my brain. I am exercising that muscle. I am making a difference.
     At the end of the day, there is a good chance I will be a teacher. Why? Because I make a damn good teacher. But that is not the only thing that reading books has made me damn good at. And I rue the day of the next person who scoffs and thinks that all I am capable of is sticking my nose in a book and never knowing when to pull it out.


                                                               Sincerely,
                                                                         Me

Friday, March 20, 2015

Skies

Dear Whoever You Might Be,
   
      I just finished (literally, just finished) reading Olive Schreiner's novel The Story of an African Farm. This story is nothing like I expected, and to be honest, I am still not sure what to think of it. It touched me, it moved me, it frustrated me, it humored me. I do not want to go into great depths of detail regarding this story, but I will advise you all to read it if you have the time.
      The reason I bring this up is because I came across a quote about halfway through the novel which stuck with me until the end. It reminded me of something, but I couldn't remember what. Then I pulled out my little notebook filled with quotes that I find in books and like and write down. Yes, I have a notebook filled with quotes that I come across and like in books that I read. Anyways, I was flipping through and scanning my compilation of quotes to try and find what this particular one reminded me of -I found two answers, and I am thrilled with both.
      For your reading pleasure, here are the quotes:
  • "And so, it comes to pass at last, that whereas the sky was at first a small blue rag stretched out over us, and so low that our hands might touch it, pressing on us, it raises itself into an immeasurable blue arch over our heads, and we begin to live again" ---The Story of an African Farm
  • "A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going" ---The Grapes of Wrath
  • "And while I was writing to you, clouds covered up the sky. As if someone has wiped everything off the school blackboard with a dirty rag and there's nothing left but white streaks" ---The Light and the Dark
Hopefully you see the connections where I did. If not, it is in the descriptions of the sky having to do with rags. Blue rag. Bloody rag. Dirty rag. Apparently I really like quotes that describe the sky in such a way. I don't want ramble about these quotes and the beauty I find in them and the literary connections that span from the 19th century (African Farm) to the 21st century (Light and Dark). Rather, I would like to just leave those quotes for you, my readers, to marinate with. To open your imagination to. To, hopefully, enjoy as I have enjoyed.


                                                              Sincerely,
                                                                       Me

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Falling Through

Dear Whoever You Might Be,


      You know how people find themselves in certain times of "obsession" over something? It  usually occurs closest to New Years -people dedicate themselves to something new and exciting. Diets! Workouts! Hobbies! Etc.! For little kids, these kinds of obsessions can occur multiple times a year. Legos! Art! Barbies! It's like spending a certain amount of time completely dedicated to something, completely consumed by it both mentally and financially. I know I went through way too many of these phases. A few years of hardcore Pok√©mon card collecting. A few years of wanting to be a geologist and collecting gems from the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. A few years of me wanting to be an "artist" and collecting paint brushes more than actually painting. This happens as an adult too, even if it may not be an obsession over something potentially "life changing." People -and I include myself in this category- binge watch Netflix. Go through stages of gardening. Of exercising. Of baking.  Of making the bed every morning. Of going to bed before midnight.
      The list goes on and on.
      There is a reason, though, that these things are considered "phases" -it's because they don't last. And in the intermediate periods, a lull tends to set in. A lazy, sleepy, often apathetic mood settles over the ambition and motivation that drove you toward something for however long. This happens to me in regards to blogging.
      I go through periods of dedication. Of creative ideas that need nothing more than to be typed out and published onto the world of high-speed internet. To share my ideas of books, art, shopping, etc., regardless of who may or may not actually read and/or care. But then sometimes I get lazy. I start to think "Oh, I'll just blog tomorrow." Then the next day comes and I think "Oh well...tomorrow." This happens over and over again until "tomorrow" turns into almost three months later.... Oops.
      I could apologize, like I usually do, for falling through with my blogging. But I don't think I will this time, because I'm sure that if you look at your calendars and see that it is already March 15, you will not blame me for the time that has passed since my last post. I mean fricks and fracks people! It is already MARCH 15!!! The Ides of March has arrived, and I cannot believe it.
      I'll try to write more... I mean, I do have tons of things that I want to write about. But I will not guarantee swiftness, nor completeness, nor even goodness. All I can guarantee is that this phase, like many, will come and go as it please. And I must do what I can with the time that I have.
 
                                                                    Sincerely,
                                                                             Me

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rankin Christmas

Dear Whoever You Might Be,


      Twas the night before Christmas. That's right folks -today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is that magical day of peace, joy, Jesus, presents, cookies, and for some... fruitcake. I bet ya'll cannot wait! I know I can't.
      This year, the Christmas Season has been a bit of a whirlwind. Up until about a week ago, it did not even feel like Christmas time. The weather is always warm and sunny in Los Angeles, making it hard to get into the snuggly snow spirit. Finals took up 110% of my life, so there was no time to do serious Christmas shopping, or bake cookies, or look at lights on houses. I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggled to get in the Christmas frame of mind this year.
      But despite the difficulties, I (and I am sure most people) still have the yearly traditions that coincide with Christmas. For me, one of the biggest traditions is watching each and every Christmas movie that I love. Everyone has their favorites -for many it is the classic "A Christmas Story" which plays on repeat on TBS Christmas day. For others, "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation" or "It's a Wonderful Life." I know in my household, "Elf" and "Fred Clause" are among the top picks for favorites. But for me, it will always be the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion animations. I am sure you have *at least* heard of them:
  •  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • A Year Without a Santa Claus
  • Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • The Little Drummer Boy
  • Jack Frost
  • Rudolph's Shiny New Year
  • Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey...
...and many other seasonal and holiday favorites. Some of those, like "Nestor," are often forgotten. But I will not forget. I could never. Those movies are a part of me, ingrained in my notion of Christmas. First comes the birth of Jesus, then comes these movies.
      It should come as no surprise that we own most of these on DVD, but every year it gets a little harder to watch them. Time, disinterest, growing up...they all make sitting down and watching these 30-60 min programs more and more difficult each year. It used to be easy -back in the day, TV channels like ABC, ABC Family, etc. used to play them frequently for our viewing pleasure. But now with Hallmark Christmas movies and updated animation technology, these movies have gotten tossed adrift to the Island of Misfit Movies. If it were up to me, the Rankin/Bass Christmas movies should RANK at the foremost of *Everyone's* movie To-Do list. But my soul is an old one, and kids these days don't really "get it."
      Though these movies rank high on my Christmas priority list, I guess the important thing is what they really mean to me. I don't watch them every year out of duty. I watch them because of the joyful memories and sentiments they bring me. I can easily recall laughter and family sing-alongs as soon as my eyes spot the opening scenes from these movies. So many family anecdotes stem from the quotes and lyrics from these movies. So many ornaments on the Christmas tree are replicas of our favorite characters. I don't think I can remember a time without these movies in my life. That is why they are important. And I guessssss as long as everyone experiences something similar when they watch their favorite Christmas movies, then however these animations rank on your list is A-OK with me....
     
      So a Merry Christmas to all. And to all, a Good Night.
                      
                                                                  Sincerely,
                                                                            Me
     

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quite a While

Dear Whoever You Might Be,


      Um, hello. It has been a few.....centuries.....since I last posted; or at least a month and a half. I have been excruciatingly busy with "end of the semester" work, but my first semester of graduate school is officially over and I will have some free time for fun things -yay!
      Unfortunately, at the present moment, I do not have a bundle of time to sit and write down all of my spectacular and innovative thoughts and feelings about life right now. So, instead of doing that, I will leave you with a poem by T.S. Eliot called "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock." I read and wrote a kick-ass paper on this poem my sophomore year of college, and it has stuck with me since. The fourth stanza (or the third major stanza) is my favorite. It is talking about how there will be time to do all sorts of things "before the taking of a toast and tea." Now that I will have a few weeks break, I will hopefully have time to do all sorts of things before the start of the spring semester. So, here is the poem--- enjoy, folks!!
 
                                                                   Sincerely,
                                                                            Me




The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
 
        S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
 
LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
 
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
 
In the room the women come and go        35
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—        40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare        45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
 
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
 
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—        55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?        60
  And how should I presume?
 
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress        65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets        70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
 
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!        75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?        80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,        85
And in short, I was afraid.
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
        110
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,        115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
 
I grow old … I grow old …        120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
 
I do not think that they will sing to me.        125
 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown        130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.