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Multi-Ethnic American Literature: Post-Semester Musings

Well, another semester done, leaving me with only one more before I graduate!!  This has made me appreciate all my Lit courses even more, since they’re the only ones I enjoy, and I won’t be getting any more of them in my post-Bac work.  One course in particular this semester offered me one of the most unique collections of literature I’ve yet come across in my undergraduate career: “Multi-Ethnic American Literature.”  reservationbluesAdmittedly I was a little put off at the title for a couple reasons: (1)America IS multi-ethnic… isn’t that title a little redundant?  What is the professor or the department insinuating by using this title? (2) I was certain it would be a group of white-people haters and I would feel marginalized and uncomfortable amidst the heated race-theory induced arguments that I have no desire to be a part of, and I felt completely assured that there would be no authors I would be able to connect with.  I’m glad I was so fatalistic because it made my surprise all the greater.  Not only was I wrong about most of the previous sentiments, but it turned out to be my favorite class.  So many “I have never..”s popped up for me:  I have never studied contemporary literature; I have never really read or studied writers that were not African American or White (American or British);518I68CSo9L._SL500_SS500_  I have never heard SO many and SO different points of view on one text or on one theory WITHOUT having a heated argument; I have never had a Professor so gifted at facilitating discussion and listening and valuing everyone’s opinion without contradicting herself and her beliefs, favoring one over another, or devaluing anyone else’s opinion; I have never thought so deeply about putting myself in someone else’s shoes until some of our class discussions; and similarly, I have never felt truly marginalized before.  I was told because I’m white and heterosexual, I’m privileged; and because I’m white and heterosexual I’ve never felt the need to identify with a racial or ethnic community, that I have the “luxury” of simply identifying myself as part of an academic or extracurricular community.  ImageI have never thought of that before, and it frustrated me to be boxed into that stereotype…. but ah, isn’t that the frustration of so many other people in this world?  Isn’t that frustration a root of hatred between people?  On a very basic level I experienced this terrible and universal frustration, and that was only on the second day of class.  I could have (and perhaps should have) blogged about all my thoughts and aha! moments, but I’ll spare you my ramblings and give you what the real intention was behind this post: my book list!  There are so many wonderful and worthwhile books we read I feel almost obligated to share it with everyone (and some of the author’sImage are even from the central valley! Big Plus #localpride).  The pictures surrounding this post are all the books we read over the semester with links to pages with a plot summary and other info in case you’re interested!  [The Halfbreed Chronicles and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue are both writers from the central valley]

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On the last day of classes my Professor asked us why we took the course.  I responded that (1)it was recommended to me (2) To get my CA credential I’m required to take a Multiethnic Lit course, (3) I WANTED to take a Multiethnic Lit course.  On a personal level, I love books that take me outside of my own experience.  Why would I want to fill my head with nothing but experiences I identify with?  I’ve got myself figured out, now I want to experience the rest of the world, what are August-Wilson-Fencesthey like, what do they think, what have they done, what are they doing?!  On a career-based level, I’m going to be teaching High-school/Middle school students, I like to call them “blossoming readers,” because at this age they NEED to be engaging with texts (and I don’t mean the ones they get on their phone!), not just going through the motions.  I won’t get any more pedagogic on you, but my point is I want to give kids books they can connect with, maaaaybe even something they [dare I say it?] enjoy *gasp*!  Most of the novels I read for this course is 1260172rated R and I’m probably not even legally able to recommend to students, but because I know that this kind of literature is out there and available I can do my own research and reading and make those [age-appropriate] texts known to the students I teach, give them something more to read than the just “rich, dead, white guy” books.

m-butterfly1As I said before, I definitely recommend all the texts on this page, but I’ve gotta tell you, these last 3 are my favorites: M. Butterfly, In the Shadow of No Towers, and One Amazing Thing.  They’re all completely different genres (a play, a graphic novel memoir, and a traditional novel, respectively), and they are all very engaging!

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Life of Pi: A Refreshing Thought-Provoker

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This novel by Yann Martel was one of the many books I had on my “Must Read” list, not just because it was a Man Booker Prize winner but because as a future teacher I was told that I may have to teach it someday in my class.   As a pathetic cover-judger of books, I have to start by saying that Life of Pi proved to be just as bright, colorful and alluring as its cover suggests.  The novel begins with the “Author’s Note,” where the reader sees the seeds of the ensuing story sown.  The author is approached by a local of the city he is visiting, and is told a story that “will make you believe in God.”  There are two narrators: The author and the main character, Pi Patel (although the bulk of the narrative is imparted by Pi).

This Blog is definitely a recommendation.  It’s written in clear and easy-to-read prose, making this a delightful summer read.  For a novel that seemed to be largely marketed as a Young Adult Novel I found there to be many concepts and questions that could be gleaned from this text that go beyond the scope of anything I was ever exposed to in my tween/teen years (presumably the age level I would be teaching).  They’re the kind of ideas my friends and I would often bounce around and argue about during our life chats.  The aspect of this novel I found most intriguing was the perspective Pi takes on religion.  I’m not going elaborate, but I will say that it is the most refreshing outlook I’ve ever seen on the subject in all my years of reading: especially suited for public school English curriculum.

This story is not about God, it’s not about religion, and it’s not about a shipwrecked Indian boy and a Royal Bengal Tiger’s fight for survival in a Lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific.  It’s about stories and their importance in our lives and to the human race.

To Be a Healthy Foodie…

Food, INCAnother summer goal accomplished: I finally watched the critically acclaimed documentary Food, INC!  For those of you who haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend it.  A couple years back I read the book that inspired the making of this film, Fast Food Nation.  I love them both, they provide you with an excellent insight into the food industry, specifically the things we don’t really think too much about, but ought to.  Major points in no particular order:

  • Large corporations appear more concerned with their production quotas than with the quality of their product
  • Animals’ normal eating habits and living conditions are being drastically altered.  On a basic level, ala animal rights, it’s just wrong to put any living creature though such a holocaust-reminiscent experience, but on a consumer level (which is really the focal point of this documentary) it damages the quality of the product we receive in the end.  One example they gave: cows & chickens being raised in an extremely overcrowded environment, which invariably increases the risk of the animals contracting AND SPREADING disease.
  • Related to the point above, the ecoli and salmonella issue.  Best represented in the story behind Kevin’s Law.
  • Fruits and Veges are brought in from distant places so we can have certain produce year round instead of waiting for them to be in season locally: plants are picked while still green and ripen on the way using certain chemicals to help them along.  Chemicals, pesticides… not good.
  • Major idea brought up and emphasized throughout the film: The problem presented by the centralization of power that is taking place among the corporations responsible for our nation’s food, who [deliberately] keep the consumers in the dark about what’s in their food and how it was brought up/grown.

As much as I liked this film, There were a few things that didn’t quite sit right with me.  They discussed at length, as did the book, the abuse that the workers of these factories suffer.  My problem was with the somewhat covert defense of illegal aliens without addressing the fact that low income, perfectly legal citizens are also suffering the same injustices.  The book, if I recall correctly, gives fairly equal time to both.  I think the film should have done the same.

Problem #2:  One of the people in the film initially stated that business is the cause of pollution and all that is wrong with the food industry.  This is not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment.  Business is not the cause of what’s wrong with the food industry, but rather bad business.  Business is what regulates the quality and effectiveness of industry; it’s the heart and soul of this country.  Bad business is precisely what this film is exposing.  People need to make that distinction.

My final problem, and really, it’s less of a problem and more of just a statement of disappointment. Fast Food Nation spends the whole first part of the book talking about the seeds of the fast food industry: small business owners looking to provide a quality, family-friendly, and affordable meal to the American people.  The author talks about McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Burger King, everybody.  There was nothing wrong with these original business owners, they were simply doing what this country promised they could do: start and maintain their own businesses, whatever they might be.  After humanizing all the fast food originators and establishing that there was nothing evil in their intents and actions in the beginning, he goes on to show what bad business tactics and giant corporations did to the quality of their products.  The book gives the impression of “the American Dream, diluted,” the film gives the impression that the food industry sprouted and flourished from the hands of Satan, which really counteracts their concluding attempt to give the audience hope that they can in fact make a difference.

The film expresses that the customer in our society feels helpless in the market place; “like we’re just recipients of whatever industry gives us”… But the audience is assured that the situation is really the exact opposite: the markets supply a lot based on customer preference.  We are a consumer-driven market, and the film strongly urges us to take advantage of that.  The film closes with some parting advice:

“Choose foods that are in season, that are organic, and know what’s in your food..read labels… buy foods grown locally…shop at farmers markets…plant a garden…cook a meal with your family and eat together…we have to start demanding.”

By the end of both the film and the book I was sold.  All I want to do is plant my own garden and eat local.  But, alas, the paradox: I go to college and learn about these documentaries that encourage change, yet it is because I’m in college and consequently busy and tired and stressed and not sky-high in the money department, that I find it somewhat difficult to adhere to all these healthier alternative standards.  But I’ll get there someday!  All I can do now is fact-collect, habit-build, and know what to look for… and buy local as much as possible!

This is Food, INC.‘s website and a good “eat local” kind of site for those of us in the central valley!

Of Mice and Men and Overpopulation

This article, The Behavioral Sink, by Will Wiles caught my eye about a week ago (although the article itself is a little older).  It’s kind of a rehashing of the research done by American ecologist John B. Calhoun, who focused much of his attention on population density.  The focal experiment of this article is Calhoun’s Universe 25, a giant and very elaborate, disease free, temperature-regulated cage (very ala apartment complex) with unlimited resources available to the test subjects (4 breeding pairs of mice).  In short, “the only thing in short supply was space” (Wiles).  As you can imagine the mice began to reproduce and by day 315 there were more than 600 mice.  The newborn mice were being born into an overcrowded world where there were more mice than there were social roles.  When the mice of Universe 25 were literally shoulder-to-shoulder their attitudes and behaviors gradually began to shift:

Normal social discourse within the mouse community broke down, and with it the ability of mice to form social   bonds. The failures and dropouts congregated in large groups in the middle of the enclosure, their listless withdrawal occasionally interrupted by spasms and waves of pointless violence. The victims of these random attacks became attackers. Left on their own in nests subject to invasion, nursing females attacked their own young. Procreation slumped, infant abandonment and mortality soared. Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection. Elsewhere, cannibalism, pansexualism, and violence became endemic. Mouse society had collapsed (Wiles). 

By 18 months into the experiment population peaked at 2,200 and ceased growth entirely.  Though many could still conceive, they did not.  The ability to form social bonds had been almost completely deteriorated. “In a way, the creatures had ceased to be mice long before their death—a ‘first death,’ as Calhoun put it, ruining their spirit and their society as thoroughly as the later “second death” of the physical body” (Wiles).

Death, despair, doom, gloom.  Nothing new.  Nothing that I’ve never heard before from the pessimists and realists (sometimes I wonder if there’s really a difference) around me.  It was not these sentiments that captured my attention, rather the last paragraph or so:

…The full span of Calhoun’s research had a more positive slant. The misery of the rodent universes was not uniform—it had contours, and some did better than others. Calhoun consistently found that those animals better able to handle high numbers of social interactions fared comparatively well. “High social velocity” mice were the winners in hell. As for the losers, Calhoun found they sometimes became more creative, exhibiting an un-mouse-like drive to innovate. They were forced to, in order to survive.

Later in his career, Calhoun worked to build universes that maximized this kind of creativity and minimized the ill effects of overcrowding. He disagreed with Ehrlich and Vogt that restrictions on reproduction were the only possible response to overpopulation. Man, he argued, was a positive animal, and creativity and design could solve our problems. He advocated overcoming the limitations of the planet, and as part of a multidisciplinary group called the Space Cadets promoted the colonization of space. It was a source of lasting dismay to Calhoun that his research primarily served as encouragement to pessimists and reactionaries, rather than stimulating the kind of hopeful approach to mankind’s problems that he preferred (Wiles).

Alright, so it’s still a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mentality but that beats doom & gloom any day of the week.  The fact that research shows that creativity, innovation, and the insurmountable will to survive courses through our veins, even in the veins of mice evidently, is such a refreshing sentiment.  I feel like everyone is being poisoned by the idea that our world is inevitably tanking and we’re all going up in flames, and if not by flames, by the murderous, morally bankrupt people around us.  I haven’t crossed this possibility off my list of ways the world will end, but what I love about Calhoun’s research is that even though Universe 25 was at it’s worst, the subjects at eachother’s throats, and even considered dead in a moral sense, there were still a select few that chose to fight for life.  I understand that these are mice in a cage we’re talking about and not Batman in Gotham city, but I think that it’s not too bold to say that if our world ever reached a point comparable to Universe 25 we wouldn’t fall as easily as the Nihlists and reactionaries assume we would.

To Daydream or Not to Dayd– Nope. I’m Daydreaming.

Because it’s almost summer, and because I’m bored, and because I’m avoiding writing an essay, and because I love planning fun things to do I have decided to stop fighting it and give into an all-out day dream sesh.  I just spent an embarrassing amount of time on Foodgawker and Pinterest, and now I’ve got my creative juices flowing, and soon (9 days exactly, not that I’m counting…) I will be free to attempt everything!  So here’s my list of 11 things I’d really like to give a crack at this summer, a summer “to-do” list if you will (in order of when it popped into my head):

1.  I want to cook more and different things.  I always fall into the habit of eating just quesadillas or just pasta or just popcorn (yes popcorn, it’s my strange little quirk meal that I crave all too often).  I was just talking with my Partner in Crime yesterday about how I’d like to try foods from every culture.  Our Californian palettes are well accustomed to Chinese, Japanese, Italian and American cuisine (and by those cuisines I basically mean orange chicken, sushi, pizza, and Cheese burgers with fries), but what about Ecuadorian, Ethiopian, and French foods?!  So this food goal is twofold:  I will attempt to expand my cooking repertoire past PB&J and spaghetti, and I will also attempt a cross cultural dining experience (except for snails… I’ll never eat snails)…. Ok this goal is threefold: I REALLY wanna make cakepops as well.

2.  I will finally watch the ever-popular show, Dexter, so that I can argue with my friends about the psychological, if not philosophical, implications it’s making!

3.  Speaking of film, I need to get my documentary fix again!  I know I want to watch Waiting for Superman for sure, but if anybody out there has any suggestions, I would LOVE that!

4.  It’s bikini season.  What kind of a body-conscious California chick would I be if I didn’t have some kind of weight-loss goal?  I get bored with diets, so I scrapped them.  I just eat what I want (which most of the time is healthy, except when it’s not); and when it’s not the 4 weeks before finals I maintain a fairly consistent level of physical fitness, so I’m not too concerned.  Alas, I am a female, and do have those days where I sulk about how grotesquely obese I am.  So I came up with this idea to have a particular eating/fitness goal every month.  Like this month, for example, I’m cutting after-dinner desserts since that’s been my downfall these last few weeks (aka the 4 weeks before finals).  So far so good, the short term goals are nice.

5.  I wanna get back into running!  I’m gonna try to run more consistently and slowly build up mileage so that maybe a year from now a half marathon would be more possible.

6.  I want to ride my BICYCLE! BICYCLE!! BICYCLE!!!  (any Queen fans out there, haha) Seriously though, I haven’t been able to ride my beautiful blue bike for months, and I love my summer rides so much!

7.  Hiking!  I haven’t been hiking for a couple months!  It’ll be pretty hot here, so I’ll have to seek areas of higher elevation.  But here’s a goal that’s even BIGGER than hiking, something I’ve wanted to do for years: CAMPING! Real overnight, pitch a tent, make your own food, get dirty & wash in the lake nearby CAMPING!  I don’t have a good sleeping bag or a tent, but I wanna make it happen this summer!

8.  If I go to the beach, I MUST build a sand castle.  A legit one too like this one!! I watched him build it at Pismo Beach a couple years back.

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9.  I got a Kindle for my birthday this year and I intend to use it.  I wanna read all the fun things I can come up with.  Currently reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and LOVING them.  I definitely need to brush up on my Classics/Canon Literature as well as some literary theory for next semester, but I would really like to simply enjoy myself for the majority of the time. (Any suggestions for engaging books are definitely welcomed!)

10.  I said I was on Pinterest earlier… CRAFTS GALORE!! So here’s my arts and crafts goal: DO MORE OF THEM!!! I can’t even begin to list all the things I want to try, but I definitely would like to up my crafts quota this summer.

11.  This one’s risky business because I go in and out of craving to write (as you can tell by my infrequent posts).  As a wise man once told me, “you think too much.”  So true.  So I think I will think less and write more, both blogging and fiction.  In fact, I think I’ll make it my writing goal to chronicle my summer “to-do” adventures!  I’m an C+ photographer so I can’t guarantee quality pictures, but I’ll try to make my posts more interesting!

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Reminiscing on summers past [ Left: me between my besties at Avila Beach.Right: me biking at sunrise]

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The name of this blog was inspired by my reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  I’m a Literature major with a great appreciation for myths, legends, and folklore, but it’s never been my favorite thing to read or study.  Ovid’s one of those writers you study in high school and just think is “whatever,” nothing really unique when bunched together with all those other boring old farts you study in your English classes.  Upon reading his work in my upper division Lit course this semester I’ve come to find that he was not just another writer shelling out myths: he was a voice of dissent in his time, and his dissent assumed the guise of his retelling of Roman myths.  I don’t pretend to be an Ovid scholar who knows all there is to know about his life and impact of his works, but the point that intrigued me most in reading his work was his perspective of the world.  He saw the universe and everything in it as nonlinear; nothing is fixed, and everything is constantly undergoing change, thus the title of the work.  This theme of change is seen in the very way he tells his stories: skipping back and forth in time, entering and retracting from the tales he begins to begin another one he must have suddenly recalled.  I took this theme of constant change and “non-fixedness” and applied it to myself.  What an obvious, but no less intriguing, observation, I’m always changing.  As people grow through and out of adolescence they are seeking their identities.  This search for one’s self was something I used to think of as a concrete journey with a fixed end: I WILL search, I WILL discover, I WILL be that person for always and forever.  Where I have indeed unearthed the person that I know is my self, I know now that there will never be a fixed “me.”  I will continue to grow, and learn, and change as long as I live.  When I first thought about this not too long ago I was more upset than dazzled.  To me it’s somewhat counterintuitive, I guess I’m a product of my culture which urges finished and perfected products, so-to-speak. To accept that I’m an ever changing being is to accept that I will always be an unfinished product.  Further more, I always felt the pressure, maybe more subconsciously than not, to be one thing, fitting into one category.  I know now that notion is absurd.  I’ll never be just one thing.  I’ll be all the dozens of things I want to be; and those things and perspectives may change, or metamorphose, through the passage of time and the accumulation of experience.

The First

According to my observations, this is why I shouldn’t start a blog:

  1. I don’t do crafts, cook, or travel often enough to document my experiences.
  2. I’m not an aspiring writer or philosopher dying for an artistic outlet where I can share my ideas.
  3. I’m not a performance artist trying to promote myself.
  4. I’m not quite in the career world yet, so I can’t really document my daily ins & outs and ups & downs in the complicated life of an adult in that way.
  5. I don’t feel like I really have anything to say.

Yet here I am.

I want to not be so in-between in the way I go about my life.  That isn’t to say I’m neutral, I’m not neutral by any means.  I find I’m very opinionated and outspoken on those things that I feel passionate about.  I don’t just exist: I’m a busy, active, animated, happy young woman with a lot of friends and family that I love.  I’m at the beginning of my life and I have everything to look forward to.  I’m filled to the brim with potential and I’ve come to find that the two things that have held me back from doing the simplest of my desires are fear and lack of motivation.  I’m guilty of the classic “fear of failure therefore don’t put forth all the effort you possess” syndrome; that’s a work in progress.  The latter of the two, however, is what now compels me to start this blog: motivation.  I’ve come up with hundreds of ideas and activities, but without the kiss of motivation, I’m left with little more than hours of wasted day-dreams.  So my thinking in all this is I just may feel more inclined to put down my thoughts and experiences if I know that, in theory, someone somewhere could be reading the things I write; I’ll think more about the things I want to write about, and in the end maybe I’ll discover more things about myself then I anticipated…  or this whole plan could fail miserably, but how will I ever know if I don’t try, right?  So here I give myself the public forum of a blog wherein I can chronicle all things “me.”  So here it goes, my wayside quest for inspiration and motivation.