Saturday, March 12, 2011

A story.

For one of my classes I have to write a fictional story based on a photo. I chose the one you see above.

Here's what I have so far:

"I like to think that I can read people. Tell where they’ve been, where they’re going, what they’re currently thinking about. This talent of mine extends to photographs as well. That’s what I was thinking when I came across the picture of a woman surrounded by her two children during the Great Depression. I was utterly fascinated, and stopped my reading upon the era which, if you ask me, was boring anyway. I set to work analyzing the woman.

She was a handsome woman to be sure. Not young, but not yet old. The lines in her face added a maturity that was attractive. Although worn, she was still strong and not yet despairing. Her gaze was worried, but had not yet become downcast. Her fingers were what had betrayed her worry; they lingered doubtfully upon her face.

Her children clung to her, hiding their faces from the camera. She was their rock, their provider, their comfort. While they were with her they weren’t afraid. She would make everything alright. She does her best to conceal her preoccupation from them because she knows how important she is to them, how tied to her emotions they are.

I sat back in my chair, satisfied with my analysis. I felt sure that the woman had survived the Great Depression, and her children along with them. She would have weathered World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, and whatever other storm that made the mistake of wandering too close to her. I wondered if she had survived on her own, or if she had had a husband. It wouldn’t have mattered, she would have made it without anyone, but I didn’t like thinking of her being all alone. She deserved to have someone.

My thoughts turned to perusing what I would’ve done if I had been in her situation. Would I have remained strong for my kids? Would I have let the terror of not knowing how I was going to feed them control me? She didn’t. She had acknowledged the terror but hadn’t let it rule her. I’d like to think that I would’ve done the same.

Bah, I thought. I won’t pass the midterm by looking at a picture. I would have to read the rest of the chapter as well. Why didn’t they make picture history books? Perhaps that would be my niche when I finally graduated. Writing picture history books. I liked the irony.".

I'm not really a fiction writer. Be gentle. It'll remain a fragment because the students who are responsible for this particular assignment (long story for another time) neglected to mention how long they wanted it to be. So I figured I'd write as if my segment were part of a larger segment. I'll probably go over it again, add some length and perhaps breadth to it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ignorance annoys me.

I've been reading "Lies My History Teacher Told Me" for one of my classes. It's been enjoyable, if somewhat difficult, reading. The latest chapter, however, was downright disturbing. It was all about the environment and how we are ALL GOING TO DIE. He (Loewen) didn't put it quite like that. That was just my overall impression.

What annoys me is that I have no prior reading/knowledge/experience with which to compare his data. I only have biases. Know of Rush Limbaugh? One of my earliest memories is of listening to his talk show in the car, along with other conservative talk-show hosts. I believe it was Rush that called environmentalists "environmentalist wackos" and regularly dismissed their concerns and actions. I can't remember his reasons for doing so.

But you know where I'm coming from now. That's the only background I have in environmental issues. And in thinking about this appalling lack of information, I remembered something else conservatives like to say (well, the ones I remember anyway): colleges are liberal bastions. Me, being me, was puzzled by this. Why would they call colleges that? What data are they basing this on?

It wasn't until I started reading Lies that I began to think more deeply about this conundrum. I think Loewen is spot on when he claims that history textbooks are woefully inadequate. As for the rest of his conclusions? Some of them I can agree with, because I have had prior opportunity to peruse the subject matter. Others I have no idea. It sounds pretty, but of course that is not enough to judge accurately.

Here is what I've come up with so far: Republicans and Democrats agreed to a secret deal. The Republicans would control the public school system and the Democrats would get the colleges. Sound good? Being serious, however, here is my working theory: public school history textbooks, among other subjects, are biased. Students are not made aware of all the moves that have been made by our government and society. They have a skewed view. In college, students come upon a more adequate source of information and as a result rethink what they have been taught in light of new revelations. Better?

Back to my original topic, though: not knowing more about environmental issues annoys me. I know the information is out there, but why wasn't it included in our courses of study? I don't think my mom considered it an issue in the early days, so she didn't look for curriculum that broached the subject (in case you don't know, I was home schooled). Now she recycles, buys organic, and is well-versed in the danger of some modern food creations (Sara Lee pastry, anyone?).

For that matter, who's bright idea was it to let students think Columbus was the first intrepid explorer to grace the America's shores? Did you know that African explorers might have made it to South America? The evidence for that is sketchy, apparently, but that would've been so cool to know. Given my knowledge of once-mighty Egypt, the conquering Arabs, and other major non-European civilizations, the European takeover of civilization (as presented in textbooks) never made sense. I still don't know enough about other civilizations to satisfy my curiosity.

Ignorance is ANNOYING. Have I mentioned that already? I'm going to have to write my kid's history textbook. I don't want them faced with the same woeful lack of information. Actually, writing one would be way too much work. I think I'll just use original sources. What a novel concept. Rather than read what someone else far removed thought of an event, my kids will read what people during the event thought and wrote.

There is simply not enough time in the day to read everything I want to read to find out all I want to know. And I don't have enough energy. My lovely post yesterday about a "culture of learning"? Yeah. I spent most of today on the couch, suffering from an attack of ennui.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Expunge that phrase from your lexicon!"

In case you were wondering, that's the phrase I said to the Orclette after she barraged me with "momma, do this right now" all morning. She understood my intent, if not the actual words, and ceased ordering me about.

And I have been thinking about what I said all morning, because I said it naturally. I wasn't trying to come up with words seldom used or sound smart. It's just what came out. And that's how I've always spoken to the Orclette. I never spoke baby-talk to her. I couldn't, actually. It sounded silly and my voice wouldn't do it. As a result she sounds more like a teenager than a three-year old, pulling words and phrases out of her memory that routinely astonish us. Of course her maturity level is still at three, so sometimes the combination is overwhelmingly funny. In case you were curious, I do occasionally speak baby-talk to the Miniorc. I appear to have mastered that language the second time around.

In other areas as well the Orclette excels. It's a combination of natural smarts and her parents always talking about what they're doing in school. And it struck me this afternoon: I want to develop a culture of learning around my kids. We're on our way already. "Dora the Explorer" is frequently on and because my collegiate Spanish course is simply not adequate in learning the language I play language cd's while we're in the car. Recently the Orclette has begun asking me the Spanish equivalent for anything she sees or thinks about. The Miniorc can do basic chores (like throwing things away) and follow most commands/instructions even though he doesn't feel the need to speak much yet. Both of them love to "read" and will pore over the pictures in books. The Orclette loves going to the engineering classes with Damm (although she doesn't understand what they're talking about). The Miniorc has inherited his mother's love of pens and highlighters.

So at the moment I don't feel the need to change our routine, beyond making sure I play a wider range of music. My mother did that for us, and all three of us turned out to be musicians. I'd love for my kids to do the same. They already love the piano and singing is a constant activity. In the future? I don't know yet. I just got the idea, and it needs to germinate for awhile.

Lest I appear to be tooting our horn, let me add that there's plenty of frivolity going on as well. There are days that no school/learning/culture activities are done, and on those days I wile away the day watching t.v. or reading escapist novels. But I do aspire to more days with a "culture of learning" going on and less "popular culture". Less t.v., more arts. Less escapist fiction, more literature that makes us think and reevaluate. That kind of thing.

And the best compliment I received today was my little brother telling me that he was totally going to use the phrase "Expunge that phrase from your lexicon!" because it was so cool.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oral Topic

Note: Some comments to posts had been disappearing. I didn't even think to check my spam filter, but I did today, and lo and behold there they were. They have been released from their spam prison.

Back to my topic: Once again, one of my professors likes to have their students give speeches. Last semester I chose to speak about Jin Ping Mei, which is, for all intents and purposes, a pornographic book. My topic was something along the lines of "What can we learn about Chinese society through its treatment of taboo subjects such as sexuality?" I'm sure I phrased that more prettily, but I am not rifling through my papers from last semester to find out precisely what I had written. In case you were wondering, the speech was well received. The only detractor was that I hadn't included pictures.

This semester I don't think a subject like that would fly well. My Jin Ping Mei talk was given to a room full of Honor students, who had been working in close quarters with each other. My European class, however, is a regular class and is held in a huge, drafty classroom. It just won't work.

So I think I'm going to talk about Belgium during WWII. My father was born there, my grandparents lived through WWII while living there, so it has nice congruity for me. I probably won't mention why I chose the topic, as this class is taught by the professor who called my attempt to personalize an essay "Irrelevant" with a huge red slash mark. I'm getting over it. Really, I am. I have found the bright side and I will review all of his comments and see if I can learn anything from them.

And that's how far I've gotten in my thinking/research. I emailed my dad, as he is a military history fan and might know of some good resources. I'll start my research soonish. At least the professor has made this easy and prohibited any use of electronics during our speeches. No power points, which is disappointing because I just learned how to make them. If you had any doubts about my professed ineptness with computers, I'm sure that information just banished them. And yes, this professor it that person who doesn't like technology. I don't agree with his stance but it's his classroom.

So there you go. I have yet to decide if I will focus on the military side of things or the civilian. Maybe both? I have to talk for ten minutes. Which wouldn't seem so daunting if this professor was more likable. I really don't want to be standing in front of a bunch of people freaking out that what I'm saying is "Irrelevant!" But then, I will have the floor, and it will be mine for ten whole minutes. Any comments but mine would be irrelevant. I guess I haven't truly gotten over that comment yet.

Irrelevant indeed.