Friday, January 28, 2011

Come to Class With Me

A new semester began only about a week ago and I'm already swamped with homework. Most of it isn't really papers or stuff like that, I just have A LOT of reading to do. A LOT. I've already read TWO novels since classes started. Crazy, huh? And I found out that I am going to be reading Moby Dick in my History of the American Novel class. I felt like groaning when I saw that. Moby Dick, is like, 800 pages long! When the time comes to read that, I think it will be a very depressing period for me. But I have already come across some really interesting reads. And ever since I have read these two pieces, I have wanted to make a post about them and share them with you guys.

The first thing I'd like to share with you guys is a poem by E.E. Cummings. (I know, poetry, but don't zone out on me yet, it is actually pretty interesting.) My teacher was talking about how she wants the class to do close readings, and passed out this poem to help serve as an example. As she was passing it out, she was telling us to read it, take a minute to think about it, and then we would discuss it. Now, I wouldn't say that poetry is my strong suit, but I would say I'm adequate enough. However, when I glanced at the words on the page that was handed to me, I thought there was some kind of mistake. I thought I must have gotten a copy that the printer had messed up on. I glanced at the person's copy next to me. Nope. Same thing. I felt a little panic. "Oh crap," I thought. "I can't even READ the poem, how am I supposed to analyze it?" But I pulled myself together. "Jackie," I thought/told myself, "You're a smart cookie. Figure it out." So I looked at the letters on the page, and I began to figure it out. Now I want YOU to look at it:

l(a by e.e. cummings






It's weird at first, isn't it? I attacked the parentheses first, knowing they meant something: "a leaf falls." And then I pieced together the remaining letters: "loneliness." I had figured out what it said, now I had to analyze it. Obviously, the image of a single leaf falling is a lonely one. I had also noticed that the only complete word on the page was "one," emphasizing the loneliness. I had initially thought that the l at the beginning was a one, and I don't think that was an accident on the part of the author, either. He knew the l's looked like ones, and this further supported the loneliness. This was about as far as I got when the class started discussing it. We talked about the inability to read the poem aloud (when poetry is known for the ability to share it verbally), and the fact that it could not be verbally expressed to another supported the isolation theme. One could only understand it by reading it themselves. We also talked about the fact that the loneliness begins before the leaf falls (the letter l is at the very beginning) indicating that the falling leaf isn't the cause for loneliness. The leaf falling is a tangible object expressing an intangible concept. Isn't this cool?

I hope you guys aren't bored with me. Because I have another piece of writing I wanted to share with you guys. But this is a very short story that I read for a literary analysis class:

Butterflies by Patricia Grace

The grandmother plaited her granddaughter's hair and then she said, "Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher," she said. "Do what she say."

Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out onto the footpath. He said to a neighbor, "Our granddaughter goes to school. She lives with us now."

"She's fine," the neighbor said. "She's terrific with her two plaits in her hair."

"And clever," the grandfather said. "Writes every day in her book."

"She's fine," the neighbor said.

The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, "Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say."

When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing around the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work.

"You bring your book home?" the grandmother asked.


"You write your story?"


"What's your story?"

"About the butterflies."

"Get your book then. Read your story."

The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it.

"I killed all the butterflies," she read. "This is me and this is all the butterflies."

"And your teacher like your story, did she?"

"I don't know."

"What your teacher say?"

"She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don't kill butterflies, that's what she said."

The grandmother and the grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden.

"Because you see," the grandfather said, "your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that's why."

Now. Is that not a remarkably striking story? When I was done reading it, I wasn't even sure what it meant, but I knew there was something amazing about it. I found it very intriguing -with the line the grandfather told the neighbor "she lives with us now" and when I read about the little girl writing about killing butterflies, and then, apparently, drawing a picture displaying this, I was curious. What kind of little girl killed butterflies? And the suspense for the grandparent's reply...and the confusion I had over the grandfather's response. What did he mean? Did he mean that people who didn't have to grow their own crops didn't understand them? I obviously didn't understand them...and I definitely buy my food at the supermarket. This story interested me so much, I had to do a little research. And guess what? I found out that butterflies lay their eggs in cabbage, and when the caterpillars hatch, they eat and destroy the cabbage. That's why farmers, such as the little girl and her grandparents, would kill butterflies. And it all made sense. I don't know why I'm so fascinated with this story, but I am. I like the sparse and stark, though. What did you think of it?

I have some more stuff I really want to write, but I will leave it at this for now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Jack Attack Review: Blue Valentine

I have been looking forward to seeing Blue Valentine for MONTHS. MONTHS, I SAY! When I heard about the premise: dual story lines - the past and the present - of a couple's relationship (I find these kinds of things very interesting) and then I heard it had Ryan Gosling (who I absolutely adore) and Michelle Williams in it, I was completely sold. So I watched clips, read reviews from film festival screenings, and waited.

Then there was the whole NC-17 rating debacle, delaying its release even further, and then it was FINALLY screened in theaters on December 29th, but on a very limited release. So, I waited, checking the movie theaters here in Denver daily, until I saw that it would be playing at the Mayan Theatre (thank you, Mayan!) this past Friday, January 14th. I immediately made plans to see it after I got off work that day.

So after all of this waiting, I began to find myself getting worried as I drove downtown to the movie theater. Was this going to be one of my cases where I hyped something up so much, I was only bound to leave disappointed? I was upset, because I had to stay 20 minutes later at my work, and I ended up showing up one trailer before the movie started and the place was packed. I ended up with a crappy seat in the very back, but it was stadium seating, so I was pretty high up and I had a clear shot at the screen without (what seems to be almost always) someone's big head in the way.

So are you ready for me to actually tell you about this movie? Here we go: this movie does something that is very hard for me to explain. The director's name is Derek Cianfrance who I have never heard of, and as far as I know, has never directed any other major motion picture. But I thought he was amazing. I think my two favorite shots are the very first scene and the very last scene and, well, there was also a certain scene where the camera is set inside, looking through a window, watching the couple embrace outside on the sidewalk, that was so beautiful it made me want to cry. Cianfrance is able to capture a feeling so well and so clearly and so simply and so elegantly. I have trouble articulating my thoughts here, but with the simple clips that open the scenes, I am able to know exactly where I am and what I should feel. Does that make sense?

And the acting is amazing. I didn't know if I could love Ryan Gosling any more than I did, but guess what, I can. He was so authentic and real and heart-breaking. And Michelle Williams was fantastic, too. The film, in part, revolves around day-to-day living that is involved in a relationship, and doesn't have the typical Hollywood romance. This is okay with me, but there was one thing that kind of bothered me. I felt like, in order for this film to really resonate with an audience, it needed to be universal, and I felt there was a certain aspect to the story that created a distance between the audience and the characters. (I don't want to give anything away here, because I walked into the movie not knowing this so I don't want to spoil it for anyone else.) When this turn in the plot happened, it bothered me a lot, and it made me start viewing the story differently. I feel like the direction that it had been going within the film would've had a greater emotional intensity.

It was well-acted, visually well-executed, but I still left feeling like something was lacking. I haven't really put my finger on it. I guess I would attribute it to what I mentioned above, the distance I felt at a certain point within the film, but even so, the closing scene really stuck with me. It was as though I could feel the intensity of the moment in my chest, the weightlessness of the point where there are no thoughts, only feelings. So...with that kind of connection at the end, I can't say that this film wasn't good. I've thought about it since, I've even dreamt about certain scenes. But I thought it could have been better. Perhaps I am being too nit-picky.