Archive for the ‘On Articles’ Category

“I had relationships with men as well as women. I wasn’t choosing; I didn’t think I had to.” – Jeanette Winterson

Political correctness, to me, has never made much sense. Are people really so uptight that they prefer you use African American over black? Continuing (roughly) down this road, I’ve always wondered something.. completely hypothetically speaking. If you, as a person, are an asshole to everyone around you.. except for “different” people (handicapped, mentally deficient, LGBT), does that make you prejudiced? Rather than treat the “different” people like you do everyone else, you differentiate them and the way you treat them. Even if your treatment isn’t negative.. isn’t this still discrimination? Isn’t it still a bad thing? We’re all just fuckin’ humans being. We’re not heroes, and we’re not bastards. We’re just people.

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The sheer wealth of information from “QueerYA” and “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I read?” is a bit staggering. Books with LGBT characters, books by LGBT authors, poems, quotes, v-logs, links to other blogs.. it’s crazy. With blogs like this – and the internet in and of itself – how can people still be so ignorant of others? Any bit of information you would ever need is readily available. I think the problem is we don’t use the internet as an information source anymore. Instead, we use it for our hair-trigger temperaments and our empty-headed opinions. We get upset about something we really know nothing about, and the internet means we don’t have to formulate an actual argument or write a well thought-out letter to an editor. We spew it out on a Facebook wall and boom. Done. It’s out there forever. This is how discrimination and hatred breeds; it’s a fear of that which we don’t understand manifesting itself.

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I was particularly impressed with Lee Wind’s website that’s tied into his blog, where he talks about how focused we are as a culture on sex. Don’t get me wrong – it’s natural, it’s stupid to pretend we’re not interested, it happens. But like in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I wonder why it is we give so much of a damn who has sex with whom. Mentally daft bible arguments aside, what is the problem with gay people? What is the problem people have with it? It’s unnatural? Are you happy with the fact that your arguments harken back to how we justified slavery a short 200 years ago?

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If I’ve offended you here, I’m not sorry. At all. I might be an angry keyboard jockey right now, but I would be happy to have this conversation with you face-to-face. Feel free to un-follow me. That’s where I flourish. To quote one Mr. Dick Rischling, “I love conflict! I WIN THEM ALL.”

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When I was in the 3rd Grade, I read the first four (then the only four) Harry Potter books. By 5th Grade, I had made my way up to Tom Clancy novels, and by 7th Grade, a Stephen King book was pretty much always within my reach. Books cowered in fear at the sight of me, and I was no stranger to the librarians (in both the school and the city library). But then something happened.. something I can’t quite explain. Something that would alter my relationship with reading for years to come.

I went to High School.

Wait, what? What exactly does that mean?

It means that, in terms of Don Gallo’s article “How Classics Create an Alliterate Society”, I was part of a rare area in the middle. I didn’t absolutely hate the reading that was required of me, I didn’t have trouble connecting with the novels because the characters “weren’t like me” or because the themes were “too adult” for me (Tom Clancy in 5th Grade, people), but I was very, very much so in the category of those disinterested in the reading.. or at least most of it. The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, Once Upon a Town… all of these nearly bored me to tears. The Scarlet Letter was melodramatic nonsense in my high school self’s opinion (and while I appreciate it now, it still is). Anything Shakespearian still busts my chops, simply because the language he is writing in is not English. It’s not. Asking us to read Shakespeare UNTRANSLATED in 2013 is like asking someone from Shakespeare’s era to try and read text-speak.

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Despite my lack of interest in these various “classic” titles, I did read them, all the while wondering just who the hell was part of the tribunal that gathers to pick the most painfully dull books to teach as “classic”. There is perhaps nothing more torturous, in my opinion, than having to read something you are plainly not interested in. High school’s method of teaching didn’t help much, just as Gallo mentions, nonsensical quizzes over trivial details in the books ensured not only that I didn’t want to read it, I didn’t care enough to keep track of details like “exactly how much time does the turtle spend on the road in The Grapes of Wrath? Round to the nearest hundredth”. That type of curriculum is choking and fosters only resentment for books. If you really want someone to be interested in a book, talk about it. I don’t mean quiz, I mean sit around and BS about the book; leave no thought unacknowledged and no question unanswered, no matter how trivial.

Gallo mentions the amount of good even 20 to 30 minutes of free reading could do in high schools, and I agree wholeheartedly. In grade / middle school, we had an “A.R.” reading program. We chose a book, read it (with allotted time in class that was usually used for the teacher to grade or wind down), and took a short quiz on it. There wasn’t any required reading, it was whatever we chose. I think the sudden shift from open fields to bleak cells is part of the reason that my relationship with reading has / had been tentative throughout and since high school. Being told what is classic, what is well written, what is good reading and what is not is definitely not my bag.

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As a teenager (which I still am), I plunged headfirst into the dark and the strange that literature had to offer. I went through Stephen King titles like candy, H.G. Wells and I become well acquainted, and I even sampled the occasional thriller by Tom Clancy or Steven Gould. The Goosebumps books from my childhood (and my earlier blog post) and the Lois Duncan novels from grade school had led me to this path, had given me a taste for the macabre and the darker side of what literature had to offer. My path had been determined. If given a choice, red definitely would be the color of my lightsaber.

As I got older and continued deeper down into the literary trenches, two pieces grabbed a significant hold of me and haven’t let go since: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, and The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, both a culmination of years and years of horror films, books, and TV shows. Both deal with the dark recesses of the human mind, both drip with hopelessness and insanity, and both were exactly what I had been searching for. The writing styles, while a bit purpley in the case of Lovecraft, were perfect. The description of dank, dark catacombs beneath a manor or the bizarre geometry of a city lost to the city could not have painted a more vivid image in my mind. I had finally found my literary holy grail. Hopefully, through the duration of our time together, I can share this sinister grail with you.

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Carpe Noctem.

It’s a Literate Life We Lead

Posted: January 11, 2013 in On Articles

Kaufman’s “Living a Literate Life” is obviously an article geared towards those heading into the teaching profession, but living a literate life is really something that can benefit anyone. I don’t think there are many people who could argue (successfully) that we need more people who are illiterate. We don’t see many fat, old politicians banging on their podiums and clammoring for less books for the children.. at least not yet. I suppose the question of what counts as a “literate life” is one with a bit of an unclear answer; is the high school student who begrudgingly reads The Scarlet Letter because he has to leading a literate life? This is an issue I myself had to deal with in High School. I loved reading to death, but not being able to choose what I read really turned me off of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I had to read The Scarlet Letter and The Grapes of Wrath, but for some reason, it wasn’t as easy to just pick up a book and go for me after that. I felt like I didn’t have the time. If not for my major, I still wouldn’t. I’m not sure why.

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What about the weekly blogger who types up film reviews every Friday? Is she leadng a literate life? Does reading things like popular magazines or compressed news articles on a website count as literacy? At the beginning of many of my classes, I’ve been asked just what exactly is literature, and I came to the conclusion that literature is written work that expresses a truth. That definition is up for debate. I, personally, don’t count being well read in news feeds, twitter posts, or facebook walls as literate. I think leading a literate life means reading on your own accord, and throwing the occasional writing in there. Be you interested in novels, comic books, or even Dr. Seuss books, I consider that part of the path to literacy. My love for both literacy (and the horror genre, for that matter) was nurtured early on. When I was just a boy, around four or five, my mom would read to me every night before I went to bed. Usually from one out of a bookcase full of Goosebumps books (at my own request, mind you). But even before I went to my first day of Kindergarten, she had me fluently reading and being able to spell on my own. Neither of us knew it then, but she was setting me on a path that would consist of a lifelong passion for reading and writing, one that culminated in my arrival here at Chadron.

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The area from Kaufman’s article where I’m definitely the weakest is the one where he discusses facing our difficulties with our own writing. I am my worst critic in everything I do. Damn near nothing is good enough to present to people, it’s a wonder I write for the paper. My dilemma is that I love to read short fiction (horror in particular), but I’m not brave enough to write it. I don’t think anything I can churn out would be good enough to present. I’m afraid I can’t do writing the justice that it deserves, and so I don’t pursue it as I should. Ultimately, I’m afraid to fail. But if I don’t dare to fail, I can’t improve. The area where I would be the strongest from Kaufman’s article is in living a life that I’m passionate about. You should see the looks and snotty questions I get when I tell people I’m a literature major: “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” I am pursuing literature out of a passion for reading and writing, not for the sake of a job. I know a man with a degree in zoology who works construction. Having a masters degree in today’s world is considered “over-qualified” to be anything but a teacher. Worrying about what my job will be 3 years from now is something I don’t have time for. I’d much rather be reading.

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For developing my literate life this semester, I plan to cut out the excuses I have been making for myself. No more “I don’t have time to read or write what I would like to”, and no more “this won’t be good enough”. I’m going to push myself: I’m going to read the books I’ve been making a point to read for years but have never made the time for (in between reading for American and British lit).

Excelsior!