Thursday, August 28, 2008

55 Pieces

I posted this on Tuesday night in one of my groups. I'm not going to link as I don't want you to read any of the other garbage I've posted there! It's a short story group founded by the owner of one of my blog subs (who doesn't blog with anywhere near the frequency I'd wish for!) and is inspired by a book of such stories in which all entries are precisely 55 words.

Fresh off a break-up and among countless strangers, she’s alone in an airport, waiting to go home. The man who dropped her off is driving away; he’ll be home in two hours. Counting the hours, after time zones and connections, until she gets home, she closes her eyes, trying to remember what home feels like.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Keillor the Puritan

In the canon representative of America’s greatest contemporary literature, Garrison Keillor’s work is recognized at once for its witty depiction of issues related to religion, sexuality, and child-rearing. Most famous for his radio persona, Keillor’s appeal is great and has likely reached a gross majority of Americans, though many are unaware. Largely due to his puritanical upbringing, Keillor found himself completely fascinated by sexually-charged innuendo and reflects such in his writing (Sussman). In “Zeus the Lutheran,” Garrison Keillor draws on his own upbringing to inject satire into a classical myth and thus parallel a timeless tale with contemporary issues of religion and sexuality.

As a heterosexual male who has been characterized at times as a womanizer (“Garrison Keillor”), it is, of course, no stretch of the imagination for Keillor to become Zeus for the purpose of expressing his views on religion and sexuality. In the story, much emphasis is placed from the start on Zeus’ reputation as an amorous being with absolutely no desire to exercise control over his urges. He is positively shameless in taking any necessary measure to bed whichever current object of his affection happens upon his path and will strike down anyone who gets in his way. Typically, those who get in the way are lawyers acting on his wife’s behalf. Through the aloofness with which Zeus responds to his wife’s concerns and the beats he does not skip, Keillor is making a statement about the level of acceptability that infidelity rises to in today’s society.

In this capacity, Keillor is able to explore the role of the omniscient Zeus and through contemporary gender roles, depict exactly what Zeus would be up against were he to transport to the present time and become fixated on a woman in a stereotypical unhappy marriage. This marks his first exposure to women who are used to exerting control in their marriages (not to mention his first exposure to women who “mount” their men). It is no coincidence that Keillor chooses to “update” Hera as well, removing her from the patriarchal society in which she lived and giving her the emotional responses that would be expected of the contemporary jilted wife.

As Zeus endeavors to convince Diane to make love to him by inhabiting the body of her husband, chaos ensues all around. Not only has he become a man that Diane is disgusted by, but Hera has used her power to render him impotent. His predicament worsens as Diane grows affectionate toward him and he cannot perform, ultimately forcing him to sit back and observe the state of the world in which he finds himself. While Zeus becomes preoccupied with what he sees as a compromise of his manhood, critics note that this type of situation is recurring in Keillor’s work and, in response, Keillor himself notes that his aim is “not to imagine we are someone but to be content being who we are” (“Garrison Keillor”).

Not to be ignored is the fact that Zeus has traditionally had a veritable plethora of ruses and disguises at his disposal to seduce women. Yet, in Keillor’s story, Zeus chooses to inhabit the body of a Lutheran minister. As a member of a large family, Keillor was raised as member of the Plymouth Brethren, which was a group of small churches formed in the 1800s in England to oppose the established church. This resulted in a very strict upbringing for Keillor in which he was forbidden from dancing, drinking, smoking, watching movies or television, and even playing cards (“Garrison Keillor”). It has been observed through Keillor’s work that the two things he feels most strongly about in terms of their effects on man: religion and child-rearing (Frye). Keillor has felt traumatized by his childhood because of the damage his parent’s religion caused through the strict and repressive manner with which children are brought up (Frye). It was against this background that Keillor chose to become a writer. Of his work, he admits to rebelling against his puritanical background perhaps because of the excitement of the fear of getting caught (Sussman).

Hitherto having lived a life where he was the Supreme Being, Zeus finds himself in a world where he is an instrument society uses to connect with a different supreme being. Not only is he impotent, he has become a religious man. The combination of these two new experiences plunges Zeus into a prison of depression where he is sentenced to monogamy. Eventually, he must tend to his duties as a minister and go to church. Here, Zeus, in all his wisdom, is bored that the people do not see that religion is not a vehicle for change. Through Zeus, Keillor expresses that religion is primarily held together by loyalty and people mechanically do what their religion demands of them with little thought or emotion. Zeus proposes that the only way to affect change is through the heart. And to “hump like bunnies.”

Essentially, Keillor grew up in a very repressed environment. As such, he found a personal and appropriate way, through his work, to explore his curiosities. Through humor, he is able to mock the religious background that defines him while acknowledging a fascination with sexuality. Like Keillor’s other works, “Zeus the Lutheran” exists to draw out the conflicts he faced regarding discrepancies in the way he was raised held against the personal philosophy that somehow evolved nonetheless.

Works Cited
Frye, Bob J. "Garrison Keillor's Serious Humor: Satire in Lake Wobegon Days.(Review)." The
Midwest Quarterly 40.2 (Wntr 1999): 121. Academic OneFile. Thomson Gale. Library of
Michigan. 11 May. 2007

"Garrison Keillor." Contemporary Authors Online. 03 Mar 2006. Thompson Gale. 11 May 2007
Keillor, Garrison. “Zeus the Lutheran.” Literature: Reading and Writing with Critical Strategies.
New York: Pearson Education, 2004.

Sussman, Vic. "How guys live their lives: Lake Wobegon Garrison Keillor reflects on humor,
heroism and what it's like to be an aging male in today's America. (Interview)." U.S. News &
World Report 115.n19 (Nov 15, 1993): 77(1).

On Not Being a Writer

I've had two teachers, and only in my college career (and it has been a long one), who qualify for the "Best Teacher I've Ever Had" award. One taught my Econ I and II as well as my Business Law courses back in my Accounting Phase.

***Nothing to do with anything: Once, when my sister and I were en route in my car to somewhere, there was a woman in front of us who had a mini-abacus attached to her dashboard. We only noticed because, every time we hit a stop light, the woman would move the beads over in some sort of indeterminable, rhythmic fashion.***

The other has taught a couple of my Literature course since I switched to the Teacher Prep program. His passion for Literature astounds me and drives me to pull out all of the stops to impress the shit out of him. He's only 24 and his knowledge in the World of Literature leaves me speechless.

One time, I wrote a critical analysis for him. It was on Garrison Keillor's Zeus the Lutheran. The title of my paper was Keillor the Puritan. I know, I know. Genius.

The feedback I received on that paper almost brought tears to my eyes.

I'm not home right now, or I might be tempted to get it out of it's frame (Kidding. Maybe.) and quote the comments he made in big, beautiful red ink. I can still paraphrase, although I've read his high praise so often that my rewording is likely quite close to accurate: "Melissa, your writing is almost at a scholarly level. Should you decide to continue your education, you have a real shot at a career in critical writing."

God, that felt good.

I'm doing homework right now and, for extra points, I was looking up something I'd previously read by Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." In it, he quotes an unnamed reporter who interviewed William Wordsworth. I had flagged the reporter's words because I agreed so very much with them (still do):

"...he said today that if the quantity of time consumed in writing critiques on the works of others were given to original composition, of whatever kind it might be, it would be much better employed; it would make a man find out sooner his own level, and it would do infinitely less mischief."

Aha! If I agree with Mr. Wordsworth, why was I so flattered and affected by my teacher's comments on my Keillor paper? Why did I think, "I would love to write critical analyses for a living!"

I made a comment on Mozart's blog today about the "ego-feed" that blogging provides. I basically said that my feeling on the subject is that I don't have the "it" that it takes to become a paid writer, but, since I love to write, it feels good that I have a handful of people that regularly read what I write. I'm not sure that it's and ego thing, and if it is, oh well. After all, having said handful of readers doesn't give me some exaggerated sense of my importance.

What is critical writing, then? How often do you read a review of any kind and find that you have the same impressions of the subject as the author did? I always get so excited, bated breath and all, when I recommend a book to someone. More often than not, the work falls short for them and I'm left with an emotion somewhere between "bad" and "worse." If I were doing it for a living I'd probably be fired before I found the like soul who thought I was brilliant.

So, what is it about critical writing? Is it that the analysis itself is so well versed that the reader feels idiotic if they don't agree?

P.S. If you are interested in reading the Keillor paper (and there is one sentence within said paper that I'm so proud of it's hard to believe I wrote it), it's on my other blog, which I haven't updated in a very long time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy Birthday

The night of his first call, the phone rang promptly just after 11 p.m. one Wednesday night, exactly like he said it would. Not being one to talk on the phone, I couldn't help but smile when I hung up at nearly 2 a.m. It felt good to have a conversation like that, with an intelligent adult where I had to process the things being said, I couldn't just smile and nod.

We covered a lot of ground that night. It was the beginning of a tumultuous friendship, the kind where no secrets were allowed to run through the trees, occasionally popping behind one before glancing back to see if it was noticed. Because there was no room for secrets, our friendship would be plagued with honesty in a way that I didn't understand, but knew was clean at the end of the day.

Sure, I wanted him to be more than my friend, as evidenced by the way my face morphed into the Cheshire Cat's when I heard his voice on my answering machine a few days after that first call, but I had a feeling I'd miss him if he weren't there, so just friends would do.

A few months later my friend was due for a birthday.

As we get older, birthdays truly are just another day. We make a big deal out of our children's birthdays because we want them to know how special they are but we don't make such a big deal for the adults in our lives. We make a phone call, buy a gift if we can afford it, do something because we're supposed to, but we rarely go out of our way to make someone feel special.

I wanted to get him something notable for his birthday. Something that said, "I listen to you and I think you're a big deal!" Ulterior motive? Naturally. We were still only just friends.

Filed away somewhere was that first conversation. I remembered him telling me about the record player he had in his living room that belonged to his grandfather before he passed away and how he'd like to start collecting old jazz albums.

Not knowing much about jazz, I looked around in cyberspace trying to find someone good, someone respected and loved in the jazz world. I found Charlie Parker and then I found a brand new Charlie Parker record (that's right, a new old jazz album) and had it shipped from England. In all, it cost $43 and, while it wasn't the most dazzling gift ever, I was darned proud of it.

I think it missed it's mark a bit.

When I gave it to him, he looked puzzled, truth be told. I patiently explained the rationale behind it and continued to feel good about my mad gift giving skillz.

It was the thought that counted, for me anyway. It had been a long time since I had such a strong inclination to make someone aside from my children feel special on their birthday, like someone listens to them and thinks they're a big deal. I was telling him that I was trying to build a foundation of valuing his friendship.

I very much liked the way that felt.


Friends first, true friends.

If you see my friend lurking around here today, tell him I fully appreciate all of our foundations: the truths, the airports, the smiles, the tears, the clouds, the dirt, the mountains, and the lakes.

You can also tell him Happy Birthday.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Please, say this instead.

Yesterday, Cletus Ain't Right posted a blog titled Yeah, I'm talking to you fatty... In it, he raises the never ending question of why women can't embrace themselves as they are (physically), imperfections and all. He basically tells us that there's nothing we can do at this exact second in time to change how we look and the best we can hope for is to enjoy this second by smiling and being who we are.

He's right, of course, and every woman who read his blog and suffers from insecurity regarding our self-image knows it. That doesn't mean it will stop.

Let me tell you where I think it starts.

For any of you who have a daughter or any of you who have gone to visit friends or family with a newborn daughter, the first thing you hear (or say) is something to the effect of, "Oh! She's so beautiful."

Henceforth, in this blog, I will refer to daughters, but, please, even if you don't have a daughter, think of the little girls you do know. It doesn't really matter how old they are, this is great for wives and girlfriends, too.

The skin-deep compliments continue from our daughters' first day of life on through their childhood.

"You look so pretty!"

Over and over and over we tell them how adorable they look. And they do. Every single one of them. Is it any wonder, though, that our daughters grow up thinking (however subconsciously) that physical beauty is a very important trait to possess? Is it any wonder that, as they grow and their physical "imperfections" develop, they look at who is being complimented like they once were and begin to create idealized versions of what beauty is, against which they will measure themselves?

I'm not saying it's wrong to tell our daughters that they're beautiful. Even at my age, when my boyfriend tells me I'm beautiful, it makes me glow. He may not even be having a "God, she's beautiful!" moment, but he cares enough about me to say something that will make me feel good. I don't think that we should never tell our girls that they're beautiful.

I only think there should be more of these, far more:

"Wow, you are incredibly clever!"

"What an intelligent girl you are!"

"Where does your creativity come from?"

"Your coordination is amazing!"

"That is the wisest thing I've heard someone say in a long time."

"You are so talented!"

"You always know how to make me smile."

"You just might be the funniest girl I know."

"How do you always know how to make me feel so happy?"

"I am so proud of you, every day."

"I have the most caring daughter on the planet."

I promise you, these things are more true and more important than telling your daughter she's beautiful will ever be. That's not to say she isn't beautiful, only that beauty is relative and, in hope that she never has to ask herself what her beauty is relative to, we, as parents, should help her focus on the infinite traits she possesses that make her truly beautiful. That beauty is the kind that radiates from within.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Topic of the Day: Scary Stuff

Doctor Jones has had a less than settling week and a half in his new place which has me thinking about scary stuff. Leslie also posted a bulletin about scary stuff so I thought I'd address my thoughts/questions here instead of in a blog comment.

While I have never had any alarming dreams (although falling down the stairs in my sleep blows) and rarely remember the ones I do have, I find them very interesting. I found my C&P with all of the post-its and want to explore the significance of dreams at some point but, for now, I'll only say that I love hearing about people's dreams and can't help but to believe that dreams mean something.

As far as strange feelings while awake, the only thing that's ever happened to me are inexplicable urges from nowhere to connect with a few people in my life the day before they died.

When I was in 8th grade a classmate I was lightly acquainted with died after an asthma attack while on a hunting trip with his dad. I had never hung out with this individual but, the day before he died, with no trigger, I began thinking of an interview assignment I had done with him for an English class. I remembered a lame answer I had given him to a question he asked and wished I could go back and say something else.

The day before my dad died, 8th grade still, I felt very strongly like I needed to call him or go to my grandma's house and tell him I loved him which was odd because my dad and I weren't close and I had never been compelled to call him like that before. Same exact thing happened with my grandma in the 10th grade. It wasn't as odd as with my dad because I was close to my grandma and did see her regularly. With her, the day before she died I was at my aunt's and she was there when I got the strong feeling to tell her I loved her. I did so and later that night experienced an odd feeling of peace and comfort because I felt like she knew she was loved.

That's it. It never happened again and I'm not saying it means something. I do think that there are people out there who experience things and find meaning that others don't and it can be unexplainable. I have a hard time reconciling that with my unwillingness to have faith in a god.

I wonder, though, if there truly are people who are more in tune with the supernatural and, therefore, experience things that others don't. For example, with the bad feeling that Doctor Jones had when in his son's new room last week likely would not have been felt by me or ten people just like me. Does that mean that he's paranoid (But, if so, for what reason given the excitement that preparing for a new chapter [of which the new home is a part] of his life has brought him?) or could it mean that he, who also has had some of the most vivid and strange dreams I've ever heard, is in tune with something most aren't? If the latter, is that a curse or a gift? Also, why are people in general more skeptical when something like this happens to someone they know but are willing to suspend disbelief for a TV program or a story someone tells about somene they know who knows someone else who had a strange experience?

We've all had bad feelings. Any stories you want to share about yours?