Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freshman English Lit, Half Way There

I frequently find amusement in my class schedules.

The first thing I want to mention is that, if you're going to transfer to a new school-- do it before your junior year-- because no matter where you go, you're going to be taking those 2 years of classes anyway....even if you transfer in with over 200 hours to begin with.  Which leads me to my -second- point:  If you're going to transfer, I only recommend doing it once...instead of twice (;

Now, if you're like me and you're going to skip all that sage advice I've just shared from my personal experience, then 1. You're going to get to meet a lot of wonderful people, 2. You're going to learn from a vast diversity of teachers, and 3. You will find yourself in a similar position to this:  I have taken so many classes, that sometimes, what I have and what I have left are vastly different.  So, here I am, taking the second half of a Freshman English Literature course, having not taken Troy's version of the first and very well classified as a Senior.

We started out amiably enough.

Tartuffe, a play I've read before and even had the privilege of seeing performed.  I like comedies.

Then it was onto Gulliver's Travels.

I always thought I'd -read- Gulliver's Travels.  But apparently, it's in four parts--and the wise publishers of children's books traditional stick to the first 2 stories.  We read the fourth section.  With weird, hypocritical horses that are supposed to be the unachievable epitomy of reason.  Okay-- I don't mind branching out and learning more about a story I thought I knew.

Than it was Rousseau's Confessions.

I enjoyed learning the history and seeing how Romanticism was a response to the Enlightenment of the previous era-- but really, I found him overtly self-indulgent.  I can accept I'm not going to like all the characters that I'm going to read about.

Then, we moved on to Faust, Part 1.

How could I not like a book where God and the Devil make a Jobian wager-- and the mortal will be the one who outwits the Devil?  Besides, he loses not just that soul, but another he hoped to net, at the last minute.  Though I have to admit, it's hard to justify liking a book where the poor female character and object of desire and manipulation is going to accidentally murder her mother, discover her lover has killed her brother, get knocked up out of wedlock and decide to drown the baby, then find redemption as she commits suicide.

Still, I wasn't worried.

Then we read The Queen of Spades.

It's an excellent psychological short story.  It's hard to claim to like a story that has NO really likable characters, but I could appreciate the writing style and visual descriptions.  The madness and accidental murder were tempered with a touch of the supernatural.

Are you starting to notice a trend?

From there, we moved on to Madame Bovary.

Now, I'm a self professed lover of books.  And I understand that this is a classic and a perfect example of Realism.  And I can appreciate that it's written very well-- that Flaubert would make boring scenes drag out and when the action quickened, so too would the reading of the story.  But I did NOT like this book.  First, because I could empathize and identify with Hippolyte-- I've frequently had issues with my Achilles to picture an incompetent doctor just -cutting- it....shudder!  And we're not going to end the book with the title character killing herself by painful poisoning after she's caused all sorts of scandal and financial ruin-- nope-- we're not going to end it until her husband is dead and her poor daughter has to go off and work in the mills because she's actually poor with no education thanks to mommy dearest's debaucheries.

These stories are starting to have a very depressing theme....

So what's the -perfect- follow up for the book?

Why, it's The Death of Ivan Illyich!

Because Russian writers are just as good at this, thank you kindly.

But let me say I absolutely HATED this story.  What a terrible, terrible story.  Perhaps I hated it so much because I'm alive, and like the characters contained within, none of us wants to face our own mortality and eventual death. Perhaps I hated it so much because it reminded me of relatives who have passed in suffering that I could do nothing to help. And perhaps I hated it because it is such a bitter outlook on what happens to us all. In any event, upon finishing this story, I actually said aloud to my husband, "What a terrible, terrible story."

And I finally couldn't take it-- I actually asked my professor if there was going to be any spot of sunshine in the rest of this semester, or if death, suicide and madness were par for the course...  She laughed, then looked through the course list and said, "Oh!  Yes, there's one!" and we laughed as we discussed what the university could be thinking when setting up this particular group of stories.

I mean, yes, they're all good examples of their times... but it's hard to keep reading books filled largely with despicable characters who are going to meet terrible ends.

And so we end this first half of the semester with Hedda Gabler.

Which, in case you were wondering, is NOT the one ray of light to look forward to (;

Forwarned, I found that I could enjoy this play (though I may be biased, I like Ibsen).  It's hard to think of a way to say that I enjoyed a play about such a terrible character. And Hedda is pretty vile: Bored bourgeois rich girl marrying below her station and entertaining herself by tormenting everyone. She has an astonishing knack at destroying everything she touches...and an even more disturbing one for enjoying it. Though I have to admit, my favorite part was George Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted finding each other at the end-- they're two peas in a pod...and both of them research nerds, which I can certainly identify with (;

So half way in, I'm not going to say I'm exactly looking forward to reading the rest of the books-- but even though I find them...well, quite frankly, disturbing, I once heard that it's necessary to be disturbed in order to grow...or something like that.

(Riffling through the internet like it's a filing cabinet where I've misplaced my quotes) Ah ha!  There it is:

"The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results."  --Carl Jung

...Now I'm wondering if Jung liked to read the classics...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


One of the things I like about having joined From Left to Write is the idea of writing blogs that are -inspired- by a book, but not necessarily a review of it.  Today, my inspiration comes from:

Free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clairs' housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia's San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls oblivious to class differences could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.   A decade later, Annie bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother's death, and a painful secret jeopardizes Julia's engagement to the man she loves. A chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, but when a mysterious saboteur opens up old wounds, they must finally face the truth about their past or risk losing everything.  As a member of GoodReads, I received a free preview copy of How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue through their First-Reads Giveaways. All opinions are my own. Get your copy available March 13, 2012!

Believe it or not, but I'm actually the oldest of five girls.  I have four sisters.  All of them are younger than me.  And thinner.  And taller.  I could rant about how it's not fair, but one of those is completely on me to change:  And I can always wear heels (;  

Through the wonder of facebook and social media, I get to be involved with all of their lives.  A few quick key strokes and I can hear about their days, pan through the photos they share.  I greatly appreciate facebook's ability to connect me with my friends and family.

But I haven't always had four sisters.  To be honest, most of my growing up, I've only had one.  And reading Meg Donohue's "How to Eat a Cupcake" made me miss her all the more.  She's three days drive away, living her daily life with her family.  But when I look back and think of her, it's always a series of moments.

I'm six and she's four.  And we're outside playing.  We're at the swing set.  I can still remember the feel of the sun on my face.  And the smell of the grass.  We haven't been there long.  And it starts to rain.  My sister starts to cry because she doesn't want to have to stop playing.  Neither do I.  So she climbs into the swing and I start pushing her.  And I sing, asking the rain to go away.  I remember the moment when the rain is but a sprinkle falling down around us with the sun shining as well.  And my sister and I laugh-- it's like we're in a crystal prism with light reflecting on all those tiny beads-- jewels that we took as a sign that our hopes had been heard-- and answered.  A friend of mine this weekend described that perfectly as the faith of children.

I was seven when an adult pointed out my form of speech.  He asked me if I was speaking in 'the royal we'.  Because I always said 'We', meaning my sister and I.  I was the one who spoke.  So I needed to learn to be quiet and she developed a voice of her own.

At eight and six, our favorite games were hide and seek, snap the whip, and school.  I'd like to think I have some hand in her incredible math skills, but I can admit that now, she's actually better at math than I am.  It's funny to me to look back on it that we would spend so much of our summer playing school.  I would stay up at night making worksheets for us to do.  Now, my sister likes to snarl the quip, "She even gave homework!"

When we got older, one of our favorite rainy weather games was Barbie fashion show-- where we piled up all of the barbie clothes we had and would create new combinations between them.

And when we were more coordinated, two of our favorite games were 'tunnel tag' (which is really hard to describe if you've never had a playground with hard above ground plastic tunnels on it, but I'm about to give it a go:  Our tunnels were in the shape of a top hat-- a square, with one side that had an addition piece on each end.  There were 'connectors' that were open on sides that joined these round pieces together.  We used the legs of the hat as safety and home base.  The rules were simple-- you ran around the top of the square, jumping the corners.  If you got going fast enough, you leaned in towards the center, almost (but not quite) running parallel to the ground.) and '3-2-1- Kick Up'.  All of the neighborhood girls played this one.  We stood in a large circle with one girl in the center who called out 3-2-1-Kick Up!  Then everyone in the ring would kick up into a handstand and try to hold it as long as possible.  The one who did it the longest won the round and took over the position of standing in the center.

And like all sisters, we had fights-- hair pulling, broken toys, yelling, crying, and some pretty violent moments when I stop to look back on them.  The upshot is that we got really good at super-gluing knick-knacks back together. (;

It's like I tell my boys, your sibling is your first best friend.  Someone to hide under the blanket with when you're scared of the monsters.  Someone to play with on the rainy days.  Someone to help you when you haven't quite figured out how to tie your shoes or need help with your homework.  Someone to adventure and dream and imagine with.  And yes, even someone to have spats with-- because then you learn how to resolve them, and how to say sorry.

And I think I need to give my first best friend a call and see how she's doing today and let her know that I love her!

Monday, March 5, 2012

3 Things I Learned While at Baba Marta

Baba Marta is the event put on by my SCA shire the first weekend in March.  This was our third year.  And it -rained- the entire time.

It's pretty amazing to have over 64 people in attendance for feast at an event with 100% chance of rain all day long (:  Especially for all of them to be in such great spirits!

This year, I was working with the feast staff all day (:  They put up with me and my poorly mobile ankled self.  While stripping black-eyed peas of their skins, I learned so many things (around a whole lot of laughter and excellent conversation!).

First, that it's the skins on beans where the gas comes from.  Strip the beans, and viola! no gas (:  (and blackeyed peas turned into a puree with a food process, mixed with eggs and deep fried is -excellent-!)

Second, so you've forgotten your grater and need to make lemon zest:  You can use a steak knife to scrape the peel off the lemon.

Third, you know how the cornstarch always says to add it to a bit of water to thicken your gravy?  You can just use the liquid you're making gravy into!  Just fill a small bowl with a couple scoops of your stock and add the cornstarch to it instead.  Genius!

And I'm going to share some of my favorite photos from this year, as taken by my friend Renee Moulton:

The troll table (:

Pokey, wearing Baba Marta III martenitsas and sitting with our 'shrubbery'.  Ni!  (;  His goal is to be the last rhino in Meridies.
The Baba Marta doll made by Lady Katarina and the table top flag made by Lord Graelant.
The new comer SCA board that I made last year (:
The peacock covers for the final dish of feast, made by Lady Anthionette, arranged for display.
Just before the reveal (:  And beneath those lovely birds were some of the most delicious chicken bacon creations -ever-.

See?  Full feast hall (:
Lord Braennan the bard singing at feast.  He also played the violin throughout while we were finishing preparing the first remove!  Many, many thanks to our visiting bard from the south!
Some of our wonderful servers wearing shire tabards.  Ha!!  I just realized it's our shire boar's head with an apple in it's mouth! (lol)
This year's teacher gift baskets (:  We do it every year-- baskets filled with treats and gifts made by the shire members for anyone who will teach at Baba Marta.
The lady who won the bid on hairsticks that I made (:
Detail on the hairsticks I made for the event (:
And just in case you needed it, proof that I was actually there (;  Cheesing it up while working in the kitchen.

All in all, it was a -wonderful- event.  And I look forward to Baba Marta IV next year (: