Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fedoras and Furs

In reading "Tahoe Transformed," I am thoughtful of my own family's history. Sarah Winnemucca has inspired me to learn more about the people who came before me. I have many times thought of approaching my own mother with the questions that any daughter might ask: Where did your family come from? When did they come here? What tribe did Grandma tell you that we came from? Ultimately, my family does not believe that these are questions that belong to us. My search for answers continues to leave me wanting.

I am from a diverse cultural background, just as so many of my peers are (I love the Bay Area for that!). My father is 100% Irish with a group of great-grandparents who came to the United States during the second bout of the Irish Potato Famine in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This is all I know of my Irish heritage, but it is something. I do have family still in Ireland, though our connections have obviously been lost throughout the generations. My father is my only connection to his family and he and I will never exchange words again.

On the other side of my story, I have a mother who looks as though she and Sarah Winnemucca were first cousins. My mother's brother could have easily been Sarah's brother. My mother never wanted to learn more about her family's heritage since she always believed that Grandma would fabricate anything that sounded interesting. My Grandmother was the only connection that I had to my Native American "heritage," had it actually existed. Today, all I have left of my grandmother are a couple of sentimental pieces of jewelry, photographs of moments dear to me, her famous salt-shaker, and memories of a woman who intrigued me with her complex mixture of old-fashioned beliefs and modern-day practices. I had a chance to learn more about who I was and where I came from when she was alive. Instead, I chose to spend my time with her sitting on her bedroom floor, looking at photographs of her in her "hey-day" when her 4'8" stature was something of a novelty, her 3 1/2" heels painfully bringing her up so that she was just a head shorter than the rest of her gal pals. Her long, dark, perfectly coifed waves glistened in the scattered sunlight. She wears a fur coat and dark red lipstick. She is, of course, dressed in the lastest of fashions. The year is 1945, just nine years before my own mother is born. Uncle Dave was at the moment a thought about to take fruition. My grandfather is standing tall amongst the ladies, donned in a fedora and a double-breasted suit, his tie so tight that his thoughts can be heard outloud. This is the image of a proud, esteemed Mexican American family who has "made it big." This family lives in Los Angeles during the height of it's Metropolis appeal. Movie stars, starlets, producers, singers, and songwriters- they are everywhere. You would think at first glance that you were looking at the next group of female back-up vocals, waiting to belt it out for their new leading guy. But instead, this is my family feeling prideful. Feeling like they've made something out of their lives. Feeling like they are not Mexican anymore. They are now American. This means something to them. During these moments shared with Grandma, I don't need to know anything other than who she is. What things she experienced. What things brought her joy. I can not ask her about her past, about where her family came from. This is not who she is. She is the woman in the dark red lipstick. She will always be American to me.

Like The Sand In A Whirlwind

Journal No. 8
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Sarah Winnemucca

Excerpt from Scott Lankford's "Tahoe Transformed"

I. "[Your enemies] will come like the sand in a whirlwind and drive you from your homes. You will be forced among the barren rocks of the north, where your ponies will die; where you will see the women and old men starve, and listen to the cries of your children for food."

II. Sarah Winnemucca is quoting a foreboding tale that her cousin Numaga had prophesized to her. He is telling her that if she tries to combat the "white" man, he will destroy her and her people. The white man has so much more than the Paiutes that there is no chance for survival once he has invaded.

III. Sarah Winnemucca is writing about the conversation that she had with Numaga. He was telling her, rightfully so, that she shouldn't try to battle with the "white" man. The Paiutes didn't have all of the artillery and battle skills that the whites did. They wanted only one thing- to defeat anyone who came across their paths and tried to stop them from "conquering" the territory. The Paiutes were later terrorized and brutalized. The survivors were split up into many different reservations, most of which were hundreds and sometimes thousand of miles away from one another. The devestating effects of this move is, I am sure, still causing a ripple effect on many tribes today.

This was a tragic tale, and it was even more tragic knowing that Sarah still fought for her people after they had been through the worst of it all. She was still trying to give the children a chance at a better life. One that she herself was unable to avoid.

It's hard to believe that this nation was filled with so many peaceful people who had been here for thousands of years before European occupiers. The indigenous people had such respect for the land and celebrated it often prior to the invasion of America, as we call it today. The same people who were the backbone of this country before are today treated as though they don't exist at all. If you aren't doing research on indigenous peoples, how would you know about them? Who tells you about their history? The history books? The government? How about the people who ostracized them in the first place? No- it seems as though they have long been forgotten. As Scott Lankford presents in "Tahoe Transformed," an article in an 1865 newspaper pushed for "a final solution of the great Indian Problem: by exterminating the whole race, or driving them forever beyond our frontier." I mean, what do they have to contribute to society today? The ones who are left are nothing but diabetic, overweight, drug-abusing, alchoholics who seem to think that they are owed something. Who do these people think that they are? The people who helped out the Europeans in their treks through trecherous territory? The friggin' first people to live in this country or something? Sheesh! The nerve of some people.

Swimmer's Dividing Water

Journal No. 7
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Emily Dickinson

From Billy Collins' Poem "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes"

I. "Then the long white dress, a more complicated matter with mother-of-pearl buttons down the back, so tiny and numerous that it takes forever before I can part the fabric like a swimmer's dividing water, and slip inside."

II. Billy Collins is using many similes to illustrate Emily Dickinson's femininity. He describes items that she is wearing as though they are the same delicate items that another very feminine, very sexual woman might possess.

III. As many texts have declared, Emily Dickinson was a highly educated, opinionated, talented woman who most see as a person without much depth to her sexuality. Mr. Collins is attempting to describe the ultimate feminine being as the hidden Emily Dickinson. He describes her clothing, movements, and actions in an almost endearing fashion. He is taking his time with the words and descriptions that he chooses, just as he might if we were watching him seduce her right in front of our eyes. His intended pauses and slow-on-the-tongue phrases make you feel almost drunk with the passion and tenderness. I do realize that this poem is almost tongue-in-cheek, deliberately telling readers and critics that she has more to her than what you first perceive, but I do really feel his careful scrutiny of her buttons in this quote. When Mr. Collins says "I can part the fabric like a swimmer's dividing water, and slip inside," he is conveying both beauty and eroticism at the same time. He is describing his tenderness for her by saying that what she is wearing is as though it were a dividing water. In addition, the parting of something and then "entering" is obviously a very sexual connotation. This is a very effective technique in bringing to light a very different woman than the strong, firecracker, asexual woman that we were led to believe that she was. This is by no means your mother's Emily Dickinson!

Agonized and Clear

Journal No. 6
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Emily Dickinson

From the poem 67 ("Success is Counted Sweetest")

I. "Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need."

II. Emily Dickinson is talking about how it feels to want something. People most often want something that they can't and don't have.

III. This poem is specifically mentioning a defeated soldier and how he knows now what triumph and victory feels like because he will never have it - he has only loss and death.

To understand what it is that you want, you must first not have that thing. Whether it be love, items, an experience or anything else that one can possess, a person can want it more than life itself because it is something that they will never have. And yet, those who have it may never really want it at all. If you don't struggle to possess or earn something, you may not understand what it is like to truly appreciate it.

I think that this is very true in today's society. Our country is very materialistic (as I'm sure many other countries are as well) and seem to hold too much importance in things that don't mean much to our real quality of life. Do we really need to own a $1000 purse or a $50,000 vehicle to make our quality of life better? Do we really need to be defined by these things? Ultimately, what is it that does give us true happiness? Love? Money? Power? I would hope that the ultimate happiness for most people is giving something to another person. I think that our society needs more practice in this idea. We don't all need to feed a nation of starving children (although that's not a bad idea), but we could do little things to make one other person feel important and cared for. Something little like saying "thank you" to someone who has helped you in a small way. Overall, I think that this poem reflects the same ideas (ideals?)- in a convoluted sort of way. I think that it is reminding us that we cannot truly appreciate what we have if we don't struggle to attain it or obtain it in some way.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Darwin Conspiracy

I promised Katja to post the name of the book that I am currently reading. The fictional book is called The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton. This book covers the time between Charles Darwin's famous travels aboard the Beagle and the publication of The Origin of Species. The author has created an interesting "flashback" between Darwin's voyages and a modern-day researcher who becomes a student of Darwin's biography. Later in the book, a third perspective is added: that of Lizzie (sometimes called "Bessie") Darwin, the mysterious younger daughter of Charles Darwin. Though there is little known about her, the author implies that what is known does not paint Lizzie in the best of pictures. Lizzie has previously been suspected as being an outcast, almost even mentally "slow." The perspective of Lizzie Darwin later proves to be one of an intelligent, mysterious woman. She was the only of Darwin's three children not to wed- for reasons that the book later divulges. She was a free-thinker and a very opinionated and curious young lady. She later develops a strong friendship with George Eliot and writes to the author frequently. Mr. Darwin and his wife agree that, for reasons that will again be covered in the book, Lizzie should remain a permanent resident of Down House, the family's homestead. Lizzie takes on her duty without complaint, finding solace in the slow routine that has at once become her prison and her freedom.

In reading what little history I have about Emily Dickinson, I am startled by the similarities between the fictional(?) character of Elizabeth Darwin and the famed poet Emily Dickinson. Even their initials are the same. :) Darwin was confined to live with her parents for the entirety of her adult life and found much solace in writing. She corresponded frequently with George Eliot and was considered to be a "modern" thinker- too advanced for a woman of her day and age. I find that these and other similarities between the two women a little too close- there must be some inspiration that came from the author's reading of Emily Dickinson.

I do hope that you get the chance to read the book- I am finding it very entertaining. I would recommend it, at least to compare the personalities and lives of the two women.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

That's Some Writin' You Got Yerself There

These images are of the original scroll containing Jack Kerouac's "On The Road." Now, mind you, I've never read his writing before, but I would love to (it's on my wish-list). I have a lot of admiration for the people who came before us to establish an entirely new genre of literature and poetry. We might have ended up looking rather Victorian today if it weren't for some amazing artists who came along. Enjoy the pictures- quite a kick and a half!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Unthinkable Arcs Of Oscillation

Journal No. 5
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Ambrose Bierce

From the short story "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge"

I. "Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum."

II. Ambrose Bierce is describing the moment-by-moment experience of Peyton Farquhar, who has just been hung, as he is slowly dying.

III. Bierce is using dramatic similes to describe the emotional and physical pain that Mr. Farquhar experiences. I wonder how "luminous" fits in with the rest of the description of what Mr. Farquhar is going through. Does Bierce mean to imply that there is a "resplendent" quality to his experience, in addition to the "fiery heart?" This was interesting to me- it seemed to be two opposite experiences at the same time. It seems that Bierce is implying that Mr. Farquhar is both reluctant and prepared to leave his physical being behind. Has he come to peace with death or is he simply seeing the "luminous cloud" as something to fear? I suppose that, as with much literature, it is something that one could never completely answer. My opinion is that Mr. Farquhar is both frightened and comforted by death. Though I am not a believer in organized religion, I think that we all have a deeply-rooted need to come to terms with death on some level. We may do it in different ways - even denial is a form of "dealing with it" - but it's something that we need to do to complete our life-cycle. My interpretation of Bierce's writing here is that this man has not done very little wrong in his life, he loves his family, and he loves his "cause." That may have brought even a fraction of peace to the final, horrific process of his very physical death.

I do understand that there is irony in this story, but I only "got" the overall irony. As we discussed in class, the first part of the story is written in a journastic style. Facts are frequent and impersonal. In the second part of the story, we understand who Mr. Farquhar is. We also learn of the events that brought him to Owl Creek Bridge. At the beginning of the third part of the story, we are led to believe that Mr. Farquhar has miraculously survived the hanging. At the end of the third part, we realize that Mr. Farquhar has, in fact, been killed by hanging. The only part that I understand to be ironic is that the reader has been mislead. I'm not sure that I understand Bierce's humor enough to see other ironies as well. I may be completely oblivious here since I'm sure that there are more examples, as well.

Metallic Percussion

Journal No. 4
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Ambrose Bierce

From the short story "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge"

I. "[The sounds] hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch."

II. Ambrose Bierce is describing a man waiting to die. Peyton Farquhar is waiting to die and is being haunted by the slowness of the seconds before his death.

III. Mr. Farquhar is hanging above a railroad trestle with nothing between himself and death other than a thin piece of plywood, held in place by a man who knows nothing other than purpose and duty. He is waiting to experience the moment of horror as he is brutally hung. Mr. Farquhar hears a "sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer unpon the anvil." The amount of vivid language that Bierce uses here is wonderful. You can feel time slowing, as if the seconds really were turning into years. His descriptions bring to thought the experiences that I have been through where all that you can hear is the rush of blood in your own ears while counting every laborious breath. It is very difficult to not jump out of your own skin in anticipation of the moment coming to fruition. I can not imagine how much more amplified the physical and emotional experiences would be when you are awaiting death in such a concrete, certain way. It makes you wonder- do you really want to be prepared for death, or would you rather have it happen without warning?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Humorous Place To Stay

Okay, now this is just for fun: can you believe that there is an "Ambrose Bierce House B&B?" Not only that, but in the inn, there is an "Ambrose Bierce Suite!" I looked at the description- I find it humorous. It's got all of these ammenities that I'm sure share absolutely no likeness to the author himself. Very funny! Here's the link: The Ambrose Bierce House B&B

Behaviour Lawless As Snowflakes

I do realize that this quote is one from a previous week (last week), but I didn't get around to posting something that I felt worthy in time for the end of the week. In spite of that, I'd still like to post it, just so that I can keep a record for myself of the works that we've read throughout the quarter.

English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Walt Whitman

From "Leaves of Grass [Song of Myself]"

I. "Behaviour lawless as snow-flakes...words simple as grass...uncombed head and laughter and naivete..."

II. Walt Whitman is describing himself as he imagines others, including students who admire him, might view him.

III. Whitman appears to view most people around him as students of his to some degree. In a previous stanza, he says "Eleves I salute you. I see the approach of your numberless gangs...I see you understand yourselves and me." Whitman seems to be addressing admirers of his work. He is describing himself, both as he views his own image and as these admirers view him. The students/admirers would be intelligent enough to understand that though he is almost bear-like, he is a man who is simplistic and loving. He is a kindrid soul. He acts out in funny, peculiar ways that only someone of his own ilk could truly understand. He uses simple, beautiful phrases to tickle the ear. His appearance can be somewhat offsetting as his dissheveled hair and rumpled clothing are not alway appropriate attire. His "laughter and naivete" are the best part of him, however. He oozes these qualities in his writing. He is so child-like and yet so thoughtful. He is a man of complexities that one must take the time to understand. Once you can "figure him out," he really is just a simple, loving person. "Song of Myself" is a reflection of all of these contrasting beautiful qualities.

Alarming Oaths

Journal No. 3
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Bret Harte

From the short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"

I. "The philosophic Oakhurst alone remained silent. He listened calmly to...the alarming oaths that seemed to be bumped out of Uncle Billy as he rode forward."

II. In the middle of a procession of mules, horses, and refugees, Mr. Oakhurst is quietly, almost involuntarily, observing the actions of his fellow outcasts. He hears Mother Shipton ranting and raving about having been thrown out of town. He then hears the Duchess dramatically state over and over again that she will die in the road. Finally, he hears Uncle Billy swearing under each strained breath as he "bumps" forward.

III. Mr. Harte has just made this story more and more hilarious. The image of Uncle Billy (who, by the way, has about three teeth left in his head and hasn't bathed in weeks!) "bumping" along on his horse and trying to swear at the same time practically has me rolling. Uncle Billy is nothing pretty to look at, or smell for that matter. The language that Harte uses in this quote gives the reader much detail, beyond the direct meaning of the words. I can see him sweating profusely, dirt smudged all over his sunken cheeks, and a grimace against the sun that looks as though it's about to produce tears. The man is miserable. He was unhappy before he got kicked out of Poker Flat and now he's just right down pissed! A couple of sentences later, Harte explains that Uncle Billy "included the party in one sweeping anathema." Dang rascals! They're all just a bunch of no-gooders!

Easily Established Standards of Evil

Journal No. 2
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Bret Harte

From the short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"

I. "[I]t was only in such easily established standards of evil that Poker Flat ventured to sit in judgment."

II. This quote is in reference to a group of "misfits" and "outcasts" whom the people of Poker Flat have chosen to throw out. The outcasts have acted out immoral behavior and therefore require judgment from the "upstanding" citizens of the town. The quote, however, indicates that the people sitting in judgment are nothing more than outcasts themselves. The "judges" have established themselves as immoral people long before the day that they chose to throw this poor, harmless group of people out.

III. This is another funny quote from the story. This one is only the third paragraph into the story, so they just keep coming. I think that Harte's usage of irony is very generous. And this works for his story. Harte continues to paint a picture of a town that is wearing white on its wedding day when it should be wearing red. With fishnet stockings and garters and stiletto heels. And a peek-a-boo leather bustier. Well, I'm sure that you get what I'm trying to say. Poker Flat wants to assume an image that it can not. Poker Flat tries to play the good guy, but all of the residents seem to be nothing more than gamblers, murderers, and other types of villains. The irony is pretty grand here.

Sabbath Lull

Journal No. 1
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Bret Harte

From the short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"

I. "There was a Sabbath lull in the air, which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous."

II. Bret Harte starts his story with a description of a gambler entering the streets of a "morally changed" town. He is looking around and noticing that people have stopped talking once he has approached. The quote above is describing the feeling about the town as he walks down the street.

III. I absolutely LOVE this quote. This quote gave me a real giggle when I first read the story (as you know, it is in the first paragraph). This is just so funny to me. The way that Harte uses such a "moral" connotation for his seedy character's observation as he leaves a poker game is brilliant. Harte insists that the story be taken lightly just by using such a teasing tone. He assumes that the readers of this c.1869 story are indeed very moral and do attend church "religiously" (pun intended, of course). His readers almost poke fun back at him by not realizing that Harte is indeed writing this story with tongue solidly lodged in cheek for the duration. I think that Harte may have had higher aspirations for his readers than what they were able to deliver.

This wonderful quote just begins to paint a picture of a town that is indeed lacking moral value. The town, after all, did just hand over its winnings to Mr. John Oakhurst. When I read this, I picture a black-clad man, wearing chaps and spurs, just coming out the front door of a building with a sign over the top: Tom's Saloon. As Mr. Oakhurst comes out the front door, he stops and lights a hand-rolled cigarette. He is about to shake out his match when under the brim of his hat, he catches sight of several clusters of usually mischievious men, all looking his way and whispering. Mr. Oakhurst continues to shake out the match, his pause only discernable if one was looking for it. As he walks down the street, he catches glimpses of whispering mouths and shadows of movement as people decide whether to scatter or just to cease all conversation. This is when Mr. Oakhurst observes, "There was a Sabbath lull in the air, which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Entrez Vous, S'il Vous Plait

Bonjour! Welcome to the Winter 2007 quarter. I am creating a new blog for my American Literature class, which focuses on the Gilded Age (1865-1914). The text that we will be using for the class is The Norton Anthology Of American Literature. I enjoy blogging for my personal use, but this is the first blog that I've done for a class. I've always liked the ideas of using journals for writing classes, but have always been a little bit intimidated by the prospect of such "free thinking." I don't have quite the confidence in myself that others have in their own writing. However, I do find that blogs are a good space for some honest feedback, both from instructor and from peers alike. I am not expecting to be a revolutionary writer, nor am I expecting revelations either. I am simply a humble person who has a hidden passion for writing. In fact, I was in my first class this past Monday and at one point my instructor was so enthuisiastic about a subject that I can so relate to that my eyes welled up. I must say that I think that I've found a niche for myself. Again, I will probably always sort of be in the background since I don't think that I've got anything profound to say, but I do appreciate learning so many different aspects of writing, literature, and poetry that I think that this will somehow enrich my life just being immersed in it. Just breathing it in.