Monday, October 25, 2010

Our Country's Financial Crisis: A Rant :)

Today I happened to hear two radio hosts discussing a recent film about the financial crisis in America (and, really, the world). I think (but am not positive) that they were discussing the new Wall Street movie. I have seen it and, though it moves a bit slowly at times, it is a good film.

These hosts, however, were discussing the topic of the financial crisis and saying that the movie (whatever it was) just proved that it was the corrupt people on Wall Street that did this to America. Now, yes, there are corrupt people on Wall Street. But, if they were discussing the recent movie (as I suspect) or even if they weren't, we cannot, as Americans, simply blame the people on Wall Street. The new movie clearly indicates that, at core, the problem has to do with all of us--with our approach to life and wealth and status and material goods. The same thing comes up in Eat, Pray, Love--even though I have big issues with that film (see earlier blog post).

This crisis has been building for years. We have all been too greedy, too expectant of instant success and fulfillment, too eager to find an easy way out. None of this is going away any time soon. As a country and as individuals, we have to reset our brains and our expectations. However, I don't see this happening...and, because of that, things are only getting worse. I mean, in a society where the Jersey Shore cast makes more than enough money in one season to pay off my student loans and set me up in a nice apartment...well, something is very wrong.

We value "nothingness" more than any country in the world. Celebrity is based on "nothingness" now. It isn't based on skill or talent...and, the fact that "celebrity" itself is a goal...ugh. Don't get me started. Where is the art? The thought? The beauty? It is out there, but it is like Hardy's "Darkling Thrush" (see poem: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15506). In this poem, the bird is singing his last song as the nineteenth century dies out and the twentieth century rolls in. Basically, he is the last bastion of art and beauty and the old world dying out as the dying new world takes over. He is losing his feathers but sings as strongly as he can, even as he is dying in a world that he doesn't belong in--a world that is "The Century's corpse outleant" (10).

I love that poem. I also despise it, because I know that Hardy is exactly right. There are good artists and good people out there--people who seek to create for the long term. But they are few and far between, and they seem to be dying out in favor of blaming others or looking for the easy way out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Crazy Date"--My dad's song makes it into the Oxford American music issue!

Congrats to my dad! His song, "Crazy Date," that he wrote and recorded when he was a kid, will be included in the Oxford American music issue (and on their CD!!).

For a great article about the song and its history (and a great link to an MP3), see Sylvia Parker's blog:

http://alabamalama.sylviaparker.net/search/label/Crazy%20Date.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sorry for lack of updates....

...I am working/writing like a mad woman! Here is hoping that I can meet my deadline!

Friday, October 15, 2010

BREAKTHROUGH!!!

Just came up with my thesis for the Wuthering Heights chapter of my dissertation!!! Hooray! The novel is so wonderfully complicated that it was really exhausting trying to discover exactly what I want to say. THANK YOU, KELLY!!! You talked me through it..and off the proverbial ledge.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Squirrels, power surges, and explosions.

I haven't been able to post anything in a day or two, and I am out at the bookstore now...ripping off WiFi. :)

Anyway, we had a bit of a mishap at the house yesterday. The power company was out cutting limbs in front of our house. There was a loud noise and then things in the kitchen started to explode and we had a small electrical fire behind the microwave oven. The fire department came out and inspected everything, declaring no danger, but we lost several appliances (televisions, microwave, dvd players, lamps, alarm system, etc.) due to the surge.

The best part? The power company claims that it was caused by a squirrel.

**It should be noted that there is no charred, dead little corpse outside. Maybe he disapparated...

The fire fighters and our electrician don't believe it any more than we do. In any case, the homeowner's insurance will cover some of it, but it will take an act of God to get the power company to admit any kind of responsibility. Just this morning, they were passing the buck and blaming the contracted company cutting down the limbs. Fascinating, isn't it, how a squirrel--one of the most skittish animals in the world--decided to keep sharpening its teeth on the line (a line so thick, by the way, that the electrician said that the squirrel would have needed a chainsaw) while there were power saws and yelling all around it. That was one brave squirrel. Or, one suicidal squirrel.
The thing that drives me crazy is how people refuse to take responsibility for anything. How are we supposed to admire or trust anyone when this is the norm? Pass the buck, folks. Apparently it is the American way.

All I know is that someone at the power company better be damn glad that my computer wasn't fried by the encounter with "nature." There would be blood drawn.

Just a snippet...

"The crosses are for the evenings you have spent with the Lintons, the dots for those spent with me. Do you see? I’ve marked every day."
"Yes—very foolish: as if I took notice!" replied Catherine, in a peevish tone. "And where is the sense of that?"
"To show that I do take notice," said Heathcliff.

--Wuthering Heights, Vol. 1, Chp. 8

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Spending more time with another favorite person!

This morning, I spent time with former student and now wonderful friend, Lisa. She is a wonderfully talented thinker, writer, and person. We had a three-hour-long conversation about books and the writing process and society. She is so inspiring. I wish more 20-somethings were as balanced and thoughtful.

We had some fascinating conversation about Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare. In discussing The Taming of the Shrew, we both decided that the final speech should be acted with sincerity. I just can't see it done any other way and somehow, when I see it played sarcastically or in jest, it just doesn't ring true.

Anyway, for today, enough of that!

I also had to work today...which took away any hope of working on the dissertation. It is okay, though, because I can spend time on it tomorrow. Also just received my first chapter revision list from my director. It is so helpful and I will have to begin on it soon, too. Still, I feel tired thinking about it...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Two hours gone in a flash

Well, over the last two weeks I have graded 70 papers, held 70 meetings, graded 70 midterms...and almost lost my mind.

The proof of it came tonight when I became so annoyed with students behaving...well, like students...out on what is known as "the strip" here in town. I am just too tired to be amused by it. Anyway, I got over it as soon as my cousin, Jeff, met me for a lovely dinner of Thai food. We sat there for two hours and had great food and conversation. We haven't been able to do that in so long! It was so much fun and just what I needed tonight after such an exhausting couple of weeks. I love teaching, but sometimes I want to hide. :)

Anyway, thank you, Jeff. You did your older cousin a big favor tonight!

Other than that: I am trying to make myself have some energy to get through the rest of the week! Tomorrow, I will work at the magazine for a while, but then I really need to do some dissertation work in the late afternoon. The goal is to finish a draft of my Wuthering Heights section over the weekend. Oh. Wow. I just made that public...which means that I might actually hold myself accountable! In fact, I should just make my blog serve that purpose!

And...speaking of holding myself accountable...I am still reading through Shakespeare. However, considering that teaching has taken up so much time lately, I haven't made much progress. Updates are coming, though!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Winter's Bone

I just went to the Bama Theater with my friends to see the Sundance "best picture" winner Winter's Bone. Holy cow. This movie is fantastic. It is rich and authentic in ways that absolutely (miraculously) restore my faith in American film. Whoever chose the actors knew exactly what they were doing. The script is fantastic and the directing job is nearly flawless. I loved every minute of it.

The above photo shows the actress (Jennifer Lawrence) who plays the lead role of "Ree Dolly," a seventeen-year-old girl living in the Ozarks and caring for her mother and siblings. She is fantastic--as are ALL of the supporting actors and actresses. They were all just amazing.

The story without spoilers: Ree's father is missing and she must find out what has happened to him before the bondsmen take her home. It is a story of family, meth, crime--you name it. It is violent and hardcore and gritty. It is also tender and touching at times. It is the best film that I have seen in ages. I love that the characters are real. They are poor and not in good circumstances. They are not glamorous. They are real. These people exist and this film gives them not only coverage that is authentic but also allows them dignity.

Well...if I can't go to England then England must come to me!

I am too poor to take a trip to England any time soon...so, my friend Kelly and I have decided that we will make a weekend trip to NYC this summer to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Antony and Cleopatra!!! We have both seen the RSC in England, but we are so excited about this particular performance (both because we love the play and because the actress playing Cleopatra really seems to agree with our ideas about her character--at least in an interview that we read). It is a contemporary dress performance and we almost decided not to go to see that version in favor of another...but, in the end, we just couldn't turn down the RSC!

The only time that I have seen the RSC perform was in Stratford-Upon-Avon two summers ago (when I was with the university study abroad program). We saw Julius Caesar...not my favorite play. But, I was fascinated by Darrell D'Silva (Marc Antony) in Julius Caesar...and as far as I know he is playing him in Antony and Cleopatra!
Here is hoping that he will be performing in NYC this summer!!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A little bit more on Wuthering Heights...

As I continue to read through the novel again, I have been struck by an appreciation for a deeply moral message in the novel. In trying to reconcile the horrible behavior (at times) and motives (at times) of Heathcliff and Cathy, I have come to realize that more than anything else, this novel is about the sacred nature of relationships--and, that no matter what happens in relationships, it is the good about the other person (if the relationship meant anything at all as deep as what H and C experience) and never the bad that outweighs the relationship--even after death.

It is a powerful message--and one that allows me to see the novel differently in really important ways. Now, this isn't to say that Heathcliff doesn't carry an enormous load of guilt throughout life once Cathy dies. He does. But he, more than Cathy, is the character to sympathize with at the end, I think. It is interesting that Cathy always has a problem with her temper and moodiness. But, at least early on, this is not evident in Heathcliff. Oh, yes--he becomes just as capable as she at abuse and petty behavior. But, in the end, their connection is built upon a sacred knowledge that even the reader isn't allowed to know. We miss all of their moments of connection. These moments take place away from the narrative eyes (of Nelly), and we will never know what those two said or did out on the moors all day and night throughout their childhood and young adulthood that created such a bond.

This sacred nature of the relationship is the most realistic part of what turns out to be a very sensational novel on some accounts. If a relationship is truly sacred, if it consumes your being, it is almost painful to talk about it and it feels like a violation to allow another person to experience any part of it. (Ahh...it all comes back to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, doesn't it? Her refusing to speak about their relationship is evidence of its sacred place in her life.) In the book, the relationship is between them, and that is what draws the readers in...we feel like if we just read a little more, pay a little closer attention, then we will know. But we won't. We won't ever know anything about Cathy and Heathcliff, really. It is amazing and evidence of Emily Bronte's power as an author.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Wuthering Heights: Re-reading an old favorite

The next dissertation chapter that I am working on concerns some ideas I have about Wuthering Heights. I won't go into those thoughts here because they would most likely bore everyone...but I am finding, once again, that I never get tired of reading this book. It, along with The Secret Garden and just a few others, is always a book I immediately fall into and want to keep reading.

I have read The Secret Garden over twenty times in my life. There was a time, when I was about 11- or 12-years-old, when I could quote from it. I can't do that anymore, but I remember every feeling I ever had while reading that book. It was the ultimate escape. I read it again about three years ago and ended up writing two seminar papers that included the novel (and a shorter paper analyzing the last film version). I don't know why certain books speak to us, but looking back on it all, I can say that I have always been attracted by the orphan character...which makes sense because I am writing my dissertation about orphans!

Actually, I didn't come to any of the Bronte novels until very late in my academic life. I read constantly as a child and in my young adulthood, but I have to say that I didn't read many classics. In a way, I think that it made me a better reader to have the freedom (other than when I was assigned something in school) to read what I wanted. My mother never monitored my reading and if something proved too mature, well, I actually self-censored. But through just learning to love to read and to love a good story, I learned to look for things that allowed me to be a better critical reader when I ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue this career.

I didn't read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights until I came back to school. I already had a college degree, had worked two years in publishing, and decided to come back to the university as an undergraduate to pursue my degree in English. In fact, I was, when I came back, unsure of what I wanted to do. I really didn't have a thought about making English my career. I only knew that I had more things to learn. I remember sitting at my desk at Southern Living magazine, not long after I started, thinking, "OK...I have a degree. Is this it? Was that all? Is that all that I got out of it?" I was a Journalism and Spanish double major. I had learned a lot, but I felt disconnected and that I was actually quite ignorant. So, after two years at a job I loved, I left my salary and benefits and jumped back into school.

Now, at that point, I felt a connection with Romantic poetry, as far as centering my studies on a particular area (though, when trying to just major in a subject, you have to take courses in all areas). But, during my first semester back, I met an incredible professor, Myron Tuman, who opened up the world of Victorian literature to me in a way that made me fall in love with it. He was my mentor and he is responsible for making me into what I am today, as far as my love for Victorian literature and my love for teaching. The first course (of many, and eventually we taught together as well--another experience that taught me so much) was a Victorian novel survey. It was here that I read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for the first time. God, I love it. I loved everything about it, from the atmosphere to Jane's crazy behavior to Rochester's at times annoying charisma! I devoured everything we read in that class, and started reading more Victorian novels that weren't on our reading list that semester. Right after reading Jane Eyre, I picked up Wuthering Heights. We hadn't even finished discussing Jane Eyre in class. I read Wuthering Heights in one day, unable to put it down. I was both horrified by and in love with the characters. When Tuman and I taught together, we discussed the problems of filming the novel (it is a huge problem), but both of us agreed that the old version was great...and it is still a favorite of mine.

The next time I read Wuthering Heights it was actually on a class syllabus in another Victorian survey at the University of South Florida, where I attended a PhD program for one year. That was the most valuable year of my life. Everything changed for me. I grew so much intellectually. I read and read and read. The Victorian survey was an introductory course and at first I thought that I shouldn't take it (by that time, I had a considerable amount of Victorian courses under my belt), but I did. I had already read everything on the list, but rereading the same books is valuable. You always realize different things when you reread something. If the book is good enough, it provides "life and food for future years," as Wordsworth says. When I read Wuthering Heights in that class, I was compelled by it so much that I became obsessed with it for a while. I would daydream in class about it, wondering about all of the strangeness in the novel. I still didn't know quite what to do with it, but I loved it again.

Well, here I am, once more, rereading the novel for my dissertation. I am once again obsessed (a good thing, considering that I am actually going to write about it this time). I have never written about the novel. I am terrified to do so, but it is so important to my topic. I am terrified because it is greatness and because, in many ways, I am much too close to what the Brontes write. I have never been able to express myself well when I write about the Brontes. I have tried composing papers about their work, and these papers turn out to be my weakest. I feel so emotionally connected to the novels that I find it very hard to critically think about them. I feel sick, physically, when I try to do so. Hey! This is going to be a fun experience then, huh? :)

But, I must try! I have a wonderful dissertation director who will help me through it, I know. I respect him and his advice so much, so maybe he will be able to guide my thoughts when I get off on some tangent! (Probably about Heathcliff...) Anyway, this book is better than most and worse than most. As I read through it, I do notice that this time I am achieving a bit more distance. I do see the flaws this time around that I willfully ignored in the past. The flaws I see are in design--narration--not in characterization. I have always been drawn to character-centered stories, and I still feel that the characterization in this book is so intriguing that it is addictive.

I do get sick of people wondering, as with Emily Dickinson, "How on earth did a girl isolated on the moors of England, without any sexual experience, write such work?"

Please.

Human desire does not necessarily depend upon experience--especially sexual desire. It is just like with Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn"--the draw is anticipation, unfulfilled desire, longing. All of the Brontes had gifts beyond measure, but Emily, I think, surpassed them all. She had to be one hell of a person to know, but I can also see her as being one of the most difficult people to know. I wish that she had lived to produce another work, but I will be forever grateful--as will many others--that she gave us Wuthering Heights.