A return to the digital world!

Well, we’re all accustomed to this kind of post.

Sorry, all. I’ve been quite the absent blogger. Life updates: as a senior in college, I need to figure out what I’m doing with my life. Like every television character ever, I will inform you in a voiceover that while I’m thrilled to be taking the next step in my life, I’d also really like to know there will be something under my foot when I take the step. I’m not asking for a plush carpet or anything too fancy. But some grass or gravel or something could be nice. 

But really, I’m excited for the future. And I am also excited for my last semester. I’ve seen plenty of seniors go a little crazy, but I hope my class will have a good kind of crazy. 

Oh, and I’ll be working on my thesis this semester, so look forward to passionate/potentially insane posts on The Winter’s Tale. Cheers!

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Alas Poor Hamlet, I Knew Him Well

Dear humans, word-lovers, and random strangers,

I’ve been reading Hamlet. All those who care for their intellectual safety should probably take cover. It’s been dramatic (pun willfully, joyously intended). 

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This is me hanging out with Hamlet. I’m worried about him.

I love this play. If only I could understand it… It’s not the literal meaning that traps me in the wretched state of confusion. After many reads, thoughtful consideration, and the (sometimes) helpful footnotes that many an editor loves to provide, I understand what the characters are saying. At least, I understand that the character could be saying one of several things, and the ambiguity means that I’ll never be certain. 

The problem comes, in political-speak, when I try to discover a unilateral solution. I can explain to you my interpretation of Ophelia (she goes crazy because she knows that Hamlet kills her father and this doesn’t make her hate Hamlet). I can tell you what I think of Claudius (he’s frighteningly clever and Hamlet is far too similar to him).

But ask me to give my reading of the whole play and I freeze up. Like Hamlet, I want to melt, thaw, and resolve myself into a dew. Well, it’s not that serious. I really just want to stop thinking about the problem for a bit.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there might not be a solution. I’m a solutions-oriented personality, so this is hard for me to admit, but Hamlet is full of questions, and it might be impossible to provide good, consistent answers for all of them. And I think that’s reflective of Hamlet’s problem, too. As every English teacher will say, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s smartest character. The puns, metaphors, and speeches that kid  can make while wavering on the edge of insanity is also frightening in its cleverness. And most of the time, he’s pretty good with logic, too.

But even Hamlet, who would probably be the best English-student ever, were he a real person, can’t understand what’s going on. There are too many questions to comprehend, and it’s his life!

So, I think the problems of the play forces the audience into Hamlet’s position. If Hamlet can’t reason out the answers, then reason might not work in this situation. We might have to turn to something higher for a source of truth. 

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You’d Never Expect it, But Taylor Swift is Single Again

Taylor Swift is once again single. Supposedly, she’s kicked Harry of One Direction to the curb. Her relationship status ranks right up there with cats as favorite topics on the internet.

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People love cats, and cats love each other.

We all have something to say on T-Swift’s life choices. Comments range from the bitter “I hope our relationship lasts longer than Taylor Swift’s next five” to the obvious “the problem isn’t with all the guys, … It’s with you, Taylor Swift.”

And then there are the puns: “#TaylorSwift‘s new single ‘A Hairy Situation’ premieres early next week. Sources say Taylor’s new music takes a different direction.” Oh, how I love puns.

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In the event that you’ve avoided the internet until just now, this is Taylor Swift. She’s pretty, but several very famous actors and musicians will tell you that she’ll break your heart. 

So we’re all willing to make a joke at Taylor’s flightiness (or is her problem a general incompatability with other humans?), but our fascination with Tay tay reveals something about us.

As much as we ridicule her, we care. We spend the time following her on the internet, and maybe even more time thinking of clever ways to insult her. But why?

Surely, part of our concern must come from a desire to see the material for Taylor’s next song. Because we all care so much about her music, and if she’s not breaking up, then we won’t get any more awkwardly personal break-up songs.

Some of it comes from a sense of superiority. Taylor Swift might make millions of dollars each year, but my love life is far more stable that hers. Mostly. And that’s what matters.

Some of it is because modern people have this peculiar need to obsess over the life of someone. As Pascal would tell you, we’re constantly searching for distraction. It’s way more fun to think about other people’s problems than to dwell on our own dissatisfaction and weaknesses. And it’s way more socially acceptable to obsess over and insult famous people. It’s not stalking or bullying if the person’s famous, right?

In the end, we really don’t care too much. We’ll leave a comment, make a joke, and move on. Taylor Swift’s love life woes is a welcome distraction, but only a temporary one.  

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Books That I Would Never Lend to You (Because I Love Them Too Much)

  1. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky

Summary: The Russian novel follows Raskolnikov, who contemplates (and commits) murder. He feels really bad about it (sometimes). Russians are incapable of writing anything that isn’t incredibly dramatic.

Explanation: Anyone who has ever thought about the role of morality in the modern world needs to read Crime and Punishment. And the scary thing is, sometimes you get trapped in Raskolnikov’s moral confusion. But the ending of Crime and Punishment provides the only acceptable solution to the problem (some people argue that the end does not fit. They are wrong.)

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I prefer to read Crime and Punishment in late spring, as blooming flowers provide a nice break from intellectual and moral heavy-lifting. The story is long but it’s worth the work.

If you like Crime and Punishment, check out The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, Things Fall Apart by Achebe, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

  1. The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet

Summary: The Pearl-poet wrote four major poems, but his most famous work is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It involves a green giant and an ax, which makes it awesome. The Pearl-poet also wrote Pearl, which is the dream-vision of a man seeking to understand salvation. His less-famous works are Cleanness and Patience, which combine Biblical imagery, courtly life, and a morbid sense of humor to explain virtues. It sounds moralist, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

Explanation: The Pearl-poet is right up there with Shakespeare and Milton as best writers in the English language.

The problem: the Pearl-poet wrote in the West-Midlands dialect of middle English, which is now really difficult to read.

The solution: Casey Finch’s translation. Finch doesn’t give a word-for-word translation, instead preserving the alliterative style of the poetry. And it’s really beautiful. Add to Finch’s translation the intellectually-challenging magic (or is it not magic?) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and you’ve got a work that will consume your thoughts for the next month.

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This is the first page of Sir Gawain in the Cotton Nero manuscript. And that’s the only manuscript that exists. So we nearly lost this amazing piece of poetry. Doesn’t that make it even cooler?

And the best part about Finch’s work is that the original text is on the left pages of the book. There’s even a basic glossary in the back! So if you want to check what the Pearl-poet actually wrote, you can do it easily. Ok, so most people probably won’t do that. But I think it’s great.

If you like the Pearl-poet, check out Chretien de Troyes, Chaucer, and Tennyson.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Summary: Claudio and Hero are young and in love and getting married. Like most obnoxiously happy friends, they decide that they will trick their friends, Beatrice and Benedick, into a relationship. So they lead Beatrice and Benedick to think that the other is wildly in love with them, which somehow makes them fall in love. Then there’s some drama between Claudio and Hero because some bad guys convince Claudio that Hero is cheating on him. Claudio thinks he kills Hero with his accusation, but in the end, everyone is alive and happy (except the bad guys).

The explanation: This is a weird Shakespeare choice, I know. It’s like saying that The Notebook is the most intellectually challenging movie I’ve ever seen. And that’s not true at all.

But there are good reasons for loving Much Ado About Nothing. First, you can’t read tragedies all the time. The human mind just isn’t made to handle that. Second, Much Ado doesn’t package up everything with a pretty ribbon and sparkles in the end. I’m not convinced that Beatrice and Benedick will now live happily ever after. And it took me several re-reads to decide what their problem actually is.

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And then there’s Hero. Is she just some weak female that does what everyone wants? Does she even have a personality? Has Shakespeare let us down and made some pathetic female character who just exists?

I haven't see the Joss Whedon Much Ado, but I really want to.

I haven’t see the Joss Whedon Much Ado, but I really want to.

There’s a lot of details for thought in Much Ado About Nothing. And it’s a comedy! Literature lovers can’t be disturbed poets all the time.

If you like Much Ado About Nothing, check out The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, Tartuffe by Moliere, and O Pioneers! By Willa Cather.

  1. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Summary: Death Comes for the Archbishop tells the story of a Bishop working in the New Mexico territory soon after it was annexed by the US. It’s episodic, and the title reveals the ending, so I don’t really need to explain more.

Explanation: Willa Cather is pretty much my favorite American author. Which is impressive, as I’ve come to actually like American authors.

What’s even more impressing is that I like Cather for her descriptions. I’m a theatre lover: lots of dialogue and very little description. And I hated the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about western settlement when I was little. Cather takes the same subject as Wilder and makes it beautiful, honest, and challenging. She writes with a paintbrush, and her works explain why someone would ever want to move west. Cather has rye honesty: priests are necessarily good people in her book, but they can also be some of the best.

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She looks a bit tragic, doesn’t she?

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a good fit for people interested in faith, and it doesn’t fall into the sometimes-repetitive young girl on the prarie anrrative. Still, some readers might find My Antonia or O Pioneers! more approachable.

If you like Willa Cather, you should check out George Herbert’s poetry, Madame Bovary by Flaubert (I would try the Lydia Davis translation, as a bad translation can ruin a work), Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson.

These are just four of the best books on the planet, but I think they represent several different varieties of goodness. I’ve included links to Amazon for the books, but you get bonus points if you buy from a local bookstore.

So, what books would you never share with anyone?

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Why I Joined a Fraternity: It’s More than the (lack of) High Heels

This semester, I joined a fraternity. But I don’t have to wear high heels, so it’s ok.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on why I’m not in a sorority. Now, I’ve joined a women’s music fraternity. So what changed?

I’m still quite independent. We only have business attire requirements about once a month (and, let’s face it, I’m a sucker for an opportunity to wear a nice dress). We don’t have study tables. Food seems to be a really important aspect of sisterhood, so I get lots of chocolate. And best of all, no high heels! My swing-dancing feet are free to be comfortable. So, one of the reasons I joined my music fraternity is because it lacks the small problems of sororities. But wait! There’s more!

I actually want my reputation to be associated with my music fraternity. We’re a dry house, so I don’t have to worry about becoming the Otis Campbell of campus.

There are many great women in the fraternity, but they are all clearly individuals. We are all united by a love of music, but we’re full of quirks. Some membersdress like grandmothers (and they’re proud of it). Some love pop music. That really impressed me, since I thought the members of a music fraternity might be too high brow One Direction and Psy. Some want to go into music (and they’re so talented that they have a decent shot). Some want to be lawyers or businesswomen. Sororities might have diversity, too, but one of the first things I noticed when considering my fraternity was how different everyone is. There isn’t a specific definition of what a woman in my fraternity is like, and that’s great.

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I had to fit a photo of One Direction in here, somehow.

My music fraternity does many of the good things that sororities do. We donate to local schools. We encourage each other. We learn to be leaders through our experiences in the fraternity.

And then, there’s music. All the women in my fraternity love music, and that unites us. When we donate to schools, we donate to the music departments. We encourage each other as students, but also as performers. We hold concerts for the community, and people actually come! Because of our experiences in the fraternity, we learn how to introduce everyone around us to the beauty and power of music.

In the end, it’s really the greatness of music that led me to join my music fraternity. Even though I’m an English major and I am a slight bit (far too) obsessed with the written word, I must admit that music can say things that words can’t. Like the mystics of Medieval England recognized, words provide us a way of understanding, but their definitions limit our understanding. Music doesn’t have that problem. And as I sing by a bonfire with my fraternity sisters, the meaning of our notes and harmonies supersede the limitations of the words we sing.

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I play the ukulele. It’s awesome.

So, in some ways, I recognize that joining my music fraternity has changed me. Slowly, I’m becoming more willing to talk to people I don’t know. You couldn’t rattle the introvert out of me, even with the Shake Shack from Grease, and my fraternity doesn’t intend to make me an extrovert. But the other members do encourage me. I spend more time practicing my ukulele (that’s a plus). I know more young women who love music (also a plus). I’ve gotten to know the great , sardonic woman who is my big (that’s a big plus. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun.) I’m more involved in philanthropy.

Admittedly, I have changed a bit. And I’m ok with that.

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Feeling guilty

Oh ever-important readers, I must confess to you that I am a bum. I could make excuses about the heavy work load of college, but I don’t like that. It’s like the awkward moment in the movie when you meet 5 months after the break up, and even though everyone knew you were lying when you said you would still be friends, you still feel a bit guilty.

So, all who have deigned to give me your attention, I will not do that. This will be that hip, new movie in which I treat you with respect and say, “I’m sorry that I haven’t written. I’ll work to get better in the future.” And then everything would be great.

This is why I haven’t gotten into the screenplay writing business. I like solving problems more than I like creating them.

But here is the goal: one post a week. It might not be lengthy, but it shall be thought out. I would save this for a New Year’s resolution, but that would be dooming it to fail. I shall begin now by telling you some of my ideas:

  • I recently joined a women’s music fraternity (please place equal emphasis on all three words; we’re quite proud of all of them). Since I wrote a post several months ago on why I wouldn’t be comfortable joining a traditional sorority, I want to explain how my fraternity is a better fit for me. 
  • List posts: The most important thing I’ve learned from my long-time housemate is hug anything that moves. The second most important thing is that people like lists. I’m thinking books I love so much I would never loan my copy to you, Youtube videos worth the guilt of procrastination, and things I’ve learned from my friends.
  • Reviews of movies and books. Everyone wants my opinion, right? Right?
  • A love letter to my ukulele

So this should keep me going for a while, and maybe I’ll even learn something along the way.

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I’m Totally Obsessed with the Olympics

I love the Olympics. Even through cyberspace, I can tell that your jaw is dropping in shock. If there’s someone who shouldn’t be very interested in the Olympics, I’m that person.

I went to a fine arts school. In my spare time, I like to read Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. When asked if I play any sports, I respond with “Swing dancing, but I don’t compete. That would ruin it.” Instead of watching the Olympics, I should be spending my time sipping tea and listening to NPR.

Yet when the day of the London opening ceremonies arrived, I painted my face like the most enthusiastic of football fans. I hushed anyone—including my mother—who attempted to interrupt my viewing enjoyment.

My fascination with the Olympics is border-line obsessive, especially considering that I have almost no desire to watch sporting events at any other time. But I do have a good reason.

The ancient Greek philosophers loved to talk about how men need society in order to be happy. We need to work together with other people in order to divide labour, but also because we enjoy feeling united with other people.

As the great majority of humans never even attempt life as hermits, I think the ancient Greek argument stands.

But a problem I experience is not feeling a part of any community. America is gigantic, and even with modern technology, I rarely feel united with some plumber in New Mexico or a doctor in Maine.

My hometown has 6,000 people in it. By modern standards, that’s tiny. But it’s large enough that I’ll never meet most of the people who love this little part of Lake Michigan as much as I do. And there’s little opportunity to feel like I’m doing something with the people of my hometown. I went to a tiny charter school, so I don’t even have a high school football team to which I can donate my enthusiasm. A river clean up or a parade here and there, but most of the time we spend all on our lonesome.

But every two years, there are the Olympics. And all of a sudden, I’m a part of something. When I cheer for American gymnasts and kayakers and fencers, I cheer with the rest of America. There are millions of us experiencing the peculiar gut-wrenching nervousness of watching a pre-recorded race.

When an American wins a gold medal, it’s a national success. Even though almost none of us know anything about water polo, when the American women make it to the finals, there’s a collective “Yeah!” across America.

Political parties, college basketball teams, and our favourite singers on Idol divide Americans against each other. But when we’re watching Missy Franklin swim to the finish line, we’re all together. And no matter how much we’re worried about healthcare and unemployment, we can all celebrate a gold medal.

There’s a reason that the ancient Greeks who created the “man needs community” theory also invented the Olympics. Because the Olympics brings people together.

So, maybe my obsession with the Olympics is a bit unhealthy. It is a bit nonsensical to bite my lip over a sport that I didn’t know existed three hours earlier. And watching equestrian for hours is not a weight loss program. But watching the Olympics makes me proud to be American, and that’s worth the obsession.

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