Serene Saturdays: The Power of Photographs

A few years back, I started a habit of “swiping” old family photographs from the upstairs loft in my paternal grandparents’ house. My grandmother was an old pro at organizing decades of photos—even having separate envelopes for pictures of my sister, brother, and me. I’d put the photos in albums according to year and occasion, and stick the miscellaneous in small, hearty Victoria’s Secret bags (whoever engineered those bags is a genius).

When Grandma died in October 2011 I nearly emptied her dresser drawers full of memories captured on film. I still don’t know what to do with them all.

There is something about a still-shot photograph, a physical photograph that symbolizes the life cycle at its best. A photograph reveals its age. Whether it’s a black and white or a Polaroid, they can capture the essence of an era.

Digital photography is phenomenal, don’t get me wrong. I love that I can view a picture a mere instant after its taken, and decide on the spot whether or not I want to “keep” it. I love that there are Photoshop features that allow me to remove the red from my eyes or the curves from my waistline. And photo bombers beware: if need be, I will remove you.

But with all the technological advances, the images can appear timeless—and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. I sometimes look at pictures from 2003 that don’t necessarily look different from my 2013 pictures. I look older (and wiser) of course, but the picture itself doesn’t necessarily reveal anything to me, whereas if I look at a picture from 1991, I can see the period unravel in front of me. I’m right back in third grade. I can see an episode of Full House on my TV screen. I can hear Phil Collins on the radio. I can smell the chocolate chip cookies I’m baking with Grandma. It’s all right there in photo.

There’s something about capturing a fleeting moment on film and not being able to do anything about it once the camera clicks. No previewing or nitpicks, or surgical procedures. Just whatever image materializes, forever.

Here are five of my favorite photographs from my collection that help remind me who I am and where I came from—even long before I was born:

My paternal grandparents c. 1948. I love this picture of them. So playful.

My paternal grandparents c. 1948. I love this picture of them. So playful.

My maternal grandparents in 1947, the same year they got married.

My maternal grandparents in 1947, the same year they got married.

My paternal grandfather and my uncle c. 1954. My "Papia" had been a drummer in swing band until his death in 2008

My maternal grandfather and my uncle c. 1954. My “Papia” had been a drummer in swing band until his death in 2008

My mom and dad c. 1978. See how these photographs reveal their eras?

My mom and dad c. 1978. See how these photographs reveal their eras?

That's me at age 8? Likely 1989 or 1990. See, I was always an "Intrinsic Writer"

That’s me at age 8? Likely 1989 or 1990. See, I was always an “Intrinsic Writer”

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The Inspiring Blog Award

Well, I think you should get on your knees, fan your arms and tell me that you aren’t worthy…because I’ve been bestowed with the Inspiring Blog Award by the sensationally lurid Jlee over at Jlee’s Blog.

As many women of my mother’s generation would say, Jlee is a “scream.” She simply does not hold back. She experiments (see the Banana Diet), she crafts (check out the leopard print wine glasses), and she reviews Lifetime movies (Lindsay Lohan never saw it coming).

But Jlee is more than that; she’s a serious writer who speaks candidly about her personal struggles and in a single blog post can have you feeling every emotion known to mankind. Plus, she’s a loyal blogger friend who always has your back.

That being said, you’d be crazy not to check out her blog.

Here are Jlee’s revised rules—the rules I’m following:

1. Display award image on your blog page
2. Link back to the person who nominated you
3. State what inspires you
4. Nominate 5 others for this award
5. Notify said bloggers

What inspires me?

I’m motivated by the attainment of peace. I tend to struggle with stress and anxiety, and long to achieve my own personal nirvana. Each day I search for small ounces of peace, things that bring me serenity, even for only a moment. A lighted candle, a single cardinal among a bunch of sparrows, the fluid movements of my cats, old family photographs, or simply the delectable quietness I can sometimes find in any given situation.

I don’t fear getting older, because I believe that as I grow I’ll get closer to peace. I’ve always said that it’s my ultimate goal in life—to achieve a strong sense of inner strength, to find the spring of calm deep within me.

2happy → in Sky & Clouds

Who inspires me?

Kirsten at A Scenic Route has shown me the importance of writing as a process as opposed to the final product. She’s also inspired me to have actual conversations with my characters!

Deborah at Living on the Edge of Wild has inspired me to see past the fast-paced world of 2013 and slip into the beauty of nature. She’s taken me (and many other readers) on virtual “walks” with her beautiful photography and mystical observations.

Abrielle Valencia has taught me many valuable lessons in obtaining personal strength and using it to my advantage. She’s shown me how to look my critics in the face and say, “nobody’s going to bring me down today.”

Vikki at The View Outside has shown me the power of tenacity. Vikki never stops working and her persistence will likely lead her to success. This has taught me to keep strong, keep going, and keep writing.

Julia at Defeat Despair has inspired me to always lift the positive energy up from the depths of ‘despair.’ The beautiful images on her blog convey a sense of beauty in a sometimes sad world.

Thanks again to Jlee and these five wonderful bloggers who help remind me why I do all of this in the place!

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Filed under Awards

Old School Sundays: The Poetry of William Carlos Williams

I may be partial to Williams’ poetry, because he’s “one of our own”; that is, he’s from northern New Jersey. Williams wrote about familiar places—the city of Paterson, where my paternal grandparents grew up, where my father born. In fact, the edge of Paterson (once considered a beautiful city, more of a slum today, such a shame) borders my current city of Clifton, New Jersey. Williams also wrote a collection of short stories called Life along the Passaic River, another landmark close to home.

But more than that, Williams truly was one of the most prominent poets during the “years between the wars.” A physician, Williams was known for scribbling poetry on prescription pads. When I studied Williams as an undergrad I was taken by his short, fleeting nonconventional (it was popular era for nonconventional poetry) poems that seemed to be lacking in broader, more abstract notions. In fact, Williams once said his poems were “No ideas but in things.” The concrete aspect of his words, the odd formation of his words, and the brief, one second it’s there, one second it’s gone nature of his words helped give Williams a name of his own.

Two of my favorite poems by Williams are written below followed by a brief analysis. “The Red Wheelbarrow” is from 1923, and “This Is Just to Say” is from 1934.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

valerie hodgins → in Birds

I don’t believe there is too much to say here. Perhaps it signifies the things we take for granted. Most people don’t think twice about a wheelbarrow, but in fact, much labor could not be done without it. The seemingly innocuous inanimate objects are necessary than we think.

I wonder about the use color. Why red? Chickens are generally white. But what is there place in the poem?

And what about the odd format?

Some believe that the poem is meant to do nothing more than to put a quick, strong image in the mind of the reader.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Merelize → in Food & Drink

An interesting one. I always saw it as a note someone left on the refrigerator. Of course the mystery is who left for the note for whom?

The confession—which is essentially what this is—doesn’t express much sorrow or regret. In fact, in parts (“Forgive me”) it’s quite demanding.

Perhaps a greater notion here is the fact that these plums are only good for a while. These types of things do tend to spoil quickly. Maybe there is a lesson in here. Waiting too long to take advantage of life’s pleasures may result in regret—even if you are stealing someone’s plums.

Two poems that say little, but express much—or don’t express much. Do you have your own interpretation? I’d love to hear about it!

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Uncross Those Arms: How Body Language Plays a role in Life & Fiction

massagenerd → in Clip Art

Human beings are a language-centered species, yet we communicate far more often with our bodies. Each day, we send signals to others via postures, facial expressions, and other seemingly benign gestures. In fact, that body language is often a more accurate indicator of our true feelings than our verbal cues.

Learning to decode the body language of our family members, friends, significant others, and co-workers can often shed great insight into “what is really going on in there.”

A few weeks ago I downloaded a free app on my iPhone called “Body Language Cues.” It came from Matt Sencenbaugh Education. The more I read on the topic, the more fascinated I became. I immediately set to work trying to “analyze” my fellow people. It’s not always easy, after all, nothing is that cut and dry. But I do believe that all day long, we send unconscious clues to others and vice-versa.

This got me thinking. What a great tool for character development! Understanding body language not only plays a major role in our real lives, but for the average fiction writer out there…this could be a wonderful way to enhance our characters’ struggles, conflicts, and emotions.

massagenerd → in Clip Art

*Here’s a general breakdown:

Common Cues

• Balled fists, elbows pressed firmly at the sides and spastic movements indicate fear.
• An arched, inclined, downward facing posture indicates sadness.
• Relaxed, loose muscles and the absence of a rigid form indicate a general sense of happiness.
• Hands that are jammed into pockets often suggest a lack of confidence or feelings of uneasiness.
• Arms that stay resting at the sides with open palms, and feet planted parallel on the floor can be a sign of humility.
• An obvious “up and down motion” of the Adam’s apple suggests anxiety.
• When someone’s upper body is directed towards you, it means he is in agreement with you or he likes you. If someone casts her upper body away from you, it means she disagrees or finds you repelling.
• A deadpanned, impassive facial expression may be interpreted as “Go away!”
• Arms crossed tightly at the chest is a self-soothing gesture. It may be a form of relieving anxiety.
• A shrug shows indifference, surrender, or a relinquishment of accountability
• Tilting the head backwards, or “lifting the chin and looking down the nose” indicates authority, dominance and haughtiness.

Sexual Signals

• Dilated pupils almost always suggest a keen interest in another person.
• If a woman studies her hands during conversation, it often indicates she is attracted to the person she’s speaking with. It may also convey nervousness.
• Women who intermittently cross and uncross their legs may be showing interest in their conversation partner.
• If someone “mirrors” or mimics your actions he or she may be telling you that they find you intriguing or engaging.
• When a woman unconsciously spreads her legs during conversation, it is often a sexual come on.

massagenerd → in Clip Art

Let me out of here!

• Someone who clinks their nails against a drinking glass or rapidly shaking or bobbing his foot likely is expressing that he wishes he were someplace else. This is often a gesture that signals impatience with the situation.
• If a person’s eyes are glossy, “dull or unfocused” they are likely bored to tears
• Fast, rapid nodding of the head can imply annoyance or agitation, while easy nodding shows comprehension and interest.

Liar, Liar

• The tone of voice of a liar will often be flat, unvaried.
• Liars will try to shift the course of conversation by using ironic humor or sarcasm.
• Liars won’t always crack under pressure. If their conversation partners stopping questioning and simply stare at the supposed liars, they will become uneasy. The ones telling the truth will often get indignant.
• Liars will often cough or clear their throats throughout their bogus explanations.
• Liars’ voices will sometimes change in speed and pitch. They might start speaking at a faster or slower rate. Also, they might use some words in a “higher-pitched” tone.
• Liars might display some typical nervous gestures such as nail biting or rubbing their palms down their thighs.
• A lowered gaze might be an indicator that someone is hiding the truth

*Most information came from “Body Language Cues” Matt Sencenbaugh Education.

In conclusion, it’s incredible how often we communicate in nonverbal ways. The culprit may not even be aware of his own actions! With these ideas in mind, it can be a great additional to the characterization in your story. Characters who display subtle signs through body movement and facial expressions will come across more rounded and humanistic.

Recommended: Video from TedTalks. This is a fabulous lecture on “power” body language and how it reflects our success. If you have the time, it’s really riveting

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are 

Do you know of any other body language cues that I may have left off the list?

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Filed under Characters, Writing Process

Old School Sundays: Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

I had a professor in college who once referred to Frost’s poetry as “simply complex.” It’s not a bad description, actually; Frost’s writing is clearly stated, accessible, and identifiable, yet there’s more beneath lurking beneath the surface. In that sense, Frost is often misunderstood . His plain spoken, nature-loving words often come across as adages in stanza-form, all bound up in a perfect poetic package. Surely though, such a prolific man of literature goes beyond Dr. Seuss for adults.

There are dark undertones to Frost’s poetry. In the poem entitled, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the familiar last line (repeated twice), “Miles to go before I sleep,” doesn’t necessary mean that one must keep going in order to pursue her dreams.

Let’s look at the rest of that stanza:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

The scenario in the poem is a man riding his horse through the woods in sub-zero temperatures; hence, if he “stops” he will likely perish. “Sleep” then becomes synonymous with death. A much darker premise for a poem than simply not giving up on dreams. Of course, there’s a more specific life metaphor in there somewhere. My point is that not all Frost poems are what they seem.

2happy → in Nature

The poem I’d like to speak about in more depth today is “The Road Not Taken.” Common words used at graduations, or inscribed in yearbooks. Of course, this one too, may not be so cut and dry:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had word them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

March to the beat of different drummer. Follow your own path. Make your own way. This is what a surface reading of the poem demands. And while most seem to grasp that a the “road” metaphor is meant to suggest life in general, the poem, taken into consideration,  is rather vague, ambiguous.

2happy → in Landscape

Certain symbolism must be taken into account. In the first stanza, the woods are described as “yellow.” In poetry, yellow is a color that often carries negative connotations. Does this have significance? Maybe, maybe not.

And these two lines suggest ambivalence:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same

Is this to suggest that the two roads weren’t all that different in the first place?

And what about this?

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

When faced with a life decision, we truly can only go one way, isn’t that true? We’ll never know what might have been. We can promise ourselves to try both ways, to come back and test out our alternative options, but the truth is, how many paths can we really follow? What do we lose each time we make a choice to go one way and not the other?

Then, in the first line of the last stanza, the word “sigh” suggests regret. “I shall be telling with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence.”Don’t we worry about that old notion of waking up one day and realizing what a waste our lives have been? All the missed opportunities, fallen chances, and failures?

In the final line, Frost writes: “I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”

Does this “difference” he speaks of necessarily mean better? Of course it made a difference. No matter what choice we make, it made all the difference. “The Road Not Taken” then, as it says right in the title, could be a lamentation or at most, a mystery. Something we’ll never know, never grasp, because life will only allow us to follow one path at a time.

What’s your interpretation?

Got to love poetry with all its layers! This by the way, is my first in a short series of “Old School Poetry.” Hope you liked it!

Recommended: A Close Look at Robert Frost

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Filed under Books and Literature, Old School Sundays, Uncategorized

Un-Follow Your Heart: When Our Blogs Lose Readers

Got my ducks in a row?

Got my ducks in a row?

I know I shouldn’t focus so much on the numbers, but The Intrinsic Writer’s “following” has been rather stagnant for the past two or three weeks. Right now, I’m stuck on number 264, which is both low and high depending on who you are, and where you’re at on the blogger’s assembly line.

Last week my number was 266. Over the weekend it dropped to 263. Then yesterday, it jumped up a notch to 265. When I checked this morning, I saw that it had sadly fell to 264.

Sigh.

Let me tell you this. The more followers I lose, the stupider my latest post seems. On Facebook, the “un-friending” tactic is the ultimate social media bitch slap. On Twitter, it’s a little less severe, since avid Tweeters tend to have followings in the ten-thousands.  But on our personal blogs, the occasional “un-follow” feels a little more, well, personal.

I’m always two steps ahead with my blogging, often pondering ideas days before they are written. This alone takes vast amounts of mental energy. Then, when I compose a post, I don’t just write off the whim. Any of my loyal supporters (you know who you are and you’re wonderful) knows I’m no willy-nilly blogger. I take time to craft my pieces. I put thought into them. I aspire to spread knowledge and raise awareness.

So when someone dumps me, kicks me to the curb, gives me the shaft…it hurts.

And as a result, the slippery slope of toxic mental activity begins to roll: No one likes me, I’m not appealing enough, My writing is no good, I’ll never be published, He or she is interesting, but I’m not.

And so on…

Do I need to take the proverbial “chill pill”? Most likely, yes. After all, blogging is not about racking up the numbers; it’s about making connections with others. I have a group of blogging friends who have helped me in valuable ways, and in the long run that’s all that should matter. And it does. And I know that.

But I’m human and I forget sometimes. And no matter how you slice it, rejection simply sucks. Furthermore, I’m curious. What makes someone “un-follow” another writer’s blog?

Ducks walking Joses Tirtabudi → in Birds

Some reasons to possibly consider:

1. Posts too much

2. Posts too little or sporadically

3. No particular reason, just cutting from the list to make this experience less overwhelming.

4. Just not interesting enough

 Sound familiar?

In response to # 1: I don’t post too much. I’m not blowing up anyone’s inbox…I don’t think. At the very most I’ll post three times a week.

In response to # 2: I don’t post too little either. Again…three times a week. I’m consistent, yet not obsessive.

In response #3: Not much I can do about that.

In response # 4: My worst nightmare realized.

But hey that’s life, right? No matter what I do there will always be some “non-fans.” I’m a teacher, I know. You can be as fair and engaging and helpful as you can, but some students just will not take to your style.

Focus on the ones that do…in teaching, writing, and in any endeavor.

While I’m at it I’ll tell you what makes me ‘un-follow’ someone’s blog. I’ve only done it maybe three times at most. We are all striving to get our voices heard and we are all struggling with the truth that getting people to give a !@#$ about what you have to say is a very difficult enterprise. This is why I typically don’t kick people off my list. I know how it feels.

However, I draw the line at these two notions:

1. Not following the standard blogging “etiquette.” If I reach out to you, leave comments, make it known that I now subscribe to your site, and I hear zilch from you, yet meanwhile you’re posting away and responding to other bloggers, then likely, yes, I will set you free. No hard feelings. There’s just obviously no “blogger chemistry” there.

2. You leave a nasty, unprecedented, comment to one of my posts. I’m not talking about simple disagreement; that’s good, in fact, that needs to happen sometimes to keep the conversation going. But a rude, uncalled for comment or unrelated rant will give me plenty of incentive to give you the boot.

I’ll reiterate…it really isn’t about numbers. Unfortunately though, the brain recognizes numbers. We’ve been trained since a very early age to assign meaning to said numbers. Therefore it’s only natural that we bloggers become “follower counters.”

Still, it’s nice to recognize the true, underlying purpose in this enterprise and that is to make friends, to show support, and spread ideas.

I am still curious though…what makes you “un-follow” a fellow blogger?

58 Comments

Filed under Why We Write, Writing Process

Old School Sundays: John Knowles’s “A Separate Peace”

I fell in love with this book my freshman year in high school. As far as I’m concerned, this novel is as close to perfect as any piece of literature will ever be. Why? Many reasons. Plot-wise, it’s flawlessly structured. The setting lives and breaths. The dialogue is precise and engaging. The narration, in a word, is superb. As a reader, you’ll go so deep inside the main character, Gene Forrester’s, mind that you’ll likely feel trapped. You’ll try to claw and scratch your way out, but you won’t be able to. At least not until the novel ends. And even then…well, good luck.

Merelize → in Plants & trees The “tree” is a very important symbol in “A Separate Peace”

I’ve used A Separate Peace on this blog many times over as an exemplary literary example of the topic I was discussing. This proves how far in-grained this story is in my mind.

The basic premise centers on two boys, Gene and Finny. They are complete opposites (Gene is studious, introverted, paranoid, and insecure while Finny is free-spirited, extroverted, dynamic, and charismatic), yet they are best friends. They balance each other out. They attend the Devon School–a prep school in New England during the early forties. All the Devon boys know that their time to serve in World War II is looming, and they are aching to live out their last days of freedom–or “peace”–accordingly.

Then Gene does something to his friend Finny that sets them both  back twofold, and thus begins Gene’s inner odyssey where he questions, mistrusts, and doubts his own motives for years to come.

As in most of my worn copies of literature, A Separate Peace is perpetually marked up. I’ll share this one line in particular that has always confused, yet intrigued me, because in essence, I was never sure whether or not I agreed with it.

During the early part of the novel, Gene has a “smart-ass” comeback to nearly everything the optimistic Finny has to say. Gene writes of himself:

“As I said, this was my sarcastic summer. It was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak” (Knowles, 17).

It’s an interesting notion isn’t it? Personally, I’m rather sarcastic myself, which is why this line always stood out to me. Am I weak? I’d ask myself nearly every time I re-read the story.

My favorite television characters were always the sarcastic ones. I get a huge kick out of Eric Forman from That 70s Show and Chandler Bing from Friends. And I’m probably the only person ever to say that Jerry himself was my favorite character on Seinfeld.

What is it then, that suggests sarcasm is equivalent to weakness? Is it because sarcasm is essentially derision? Can sarcasm be used as a defense mechanism by someone who is say, pessimistic and cynical? Do the “weak” hide behind irony? Is sarcasm a disguise for anxiety, inferiority, and apprehension?

Throughout the novel, Gene proves himself to be suspicious and easily offended. His jealousy towards the exuberant Finny runs rampant. Is this what Knowles means? Was Gene simply covering his own insecurities by feigning humorous superiority? Is that the fundamental concept behind sarcasm?

See, I still don’t know! Gets me every time. Got to love literature.

From MemeCreator.org

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Filed under Books and Literature, Old School Sundays

Serene Saturdays: Irish Wisdom

This magnet has been on my refrigerator for years now. Many times I’ve stopped to read it, reveling in the perfection of its rhyme scheme and Irish-sounding maxim.

photo(10)

It was given to us by a friend, who likely picked up my husband’s half-Irish pride. I too, have some Irish blood mixed into my “mutt-like” ethnic background, but I’ve always been able to identify with their culture. Throughout history, the country has survived some less than “lucky” periods. Yet its people have somehow remained some of the grateful in all the world. There is a clinging to pride among the Irish, and a kind of zeal that simply cannot be broken. I don’t think I’ve ever met an Irishmen who wasn’t more than happy to boast of his heritage.

One night last week, I passed by refrigerator in my usual fashion and for some reason, decided to pause and read the delightful words on the magnet. And then? Well, I don’t know what happened exactly, but I started to…cry.

PMS?

Too much wine?

I’m just a freak? (This is one my hubby would agree with)

Dunguaire Castle Nicolas Raymond → in Constructions

None of the above. It was the words. They moved me. In case you can’t read the magnet above, I’ll type them out below:

MAY YOU ALWAYS BE BLESSED

WITH WALLS FOR THE WIND.

A ROOF FOR THE RAIN,

A WARM CUP OF TEA BY THE FIRE.

LAUGHTER TO CHEER YOU.

THOSE YOU LOVE NEAR YOU.

AND ALL THAT YOUR HEART MIGHT DESIRE.

(Irish Blessing)

I cried because I’ve been driving myself crazy with all that I don’t have. I don’t have a house in Bergen County.  I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a publisher making me a star. I don’t have a slot on the New York Times Bestseller List. I don’t have as rockin’ a body as I did high school (if I even did then). The list goes on.

But that magnet? It put things in perspective. It was like an epiphany. Here’s a country that has gone through so much torment, so much struggle. It’s true. Having a warm home, good people and laughter in your life, (and of course tea and a fireplace 🙂 ) really is a blessing. Think about how more than half of this world lives.

I have all those things. Well, not a fireplace, but I grew up in house that had one.

It hit me so hard and I didn’t even see it coming: I’m blessed.

If I never get any of those things I mentioned above, I’m still blessed. Doesn’t mean I won’t try of course, and that in and of itself, the fact that I’m able to attempt my dreams, is of course, it’s own blessing.

It knocked the stress right out of me.

Maybe if we all stopped wanting we could calm down as well. And in my opinion, inner-peace is the root of happiness.

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Filed under Serene Saturdays, Uncategorized

Points for the Protagonist: Our Unyielding Devotion to Character # 1

Ed Davad → in Toys “Gotta love Harry”

A devout fan of the television series Breaking Bad, I became disgusted with myself one evening while viewing an episode with my husband. At a commercial break I began ranting about ‘what a bitch’ Skyler White, main character Walter White’s wife, was for wishing her husband dead. How dare she deliberately smoke cigarettes in his presence in hopes of his cancer returning? How could cause her lifelong partner such intense bodily harm?

Then it hit me: Why wouldn’t she want him dead?

He became a crystal meth proprietor behind her back. He murdered people. He poisoned a child. Truth be told, Skyler’s husband inadvertently dragged her into serious and potential legal problems. He endangered the lives of their children…and yet, I’m calling her the bitch?

More like Walt himself is the son of one.

It’s an interesting notion to ponder, because I’m definitely not the first, nor will I be the last viewer to deem Skylar the enemy. The thing is though, the story is not centered on Skyler’s point-of-view, if it was, then we’d certainly be ragging on old “Heisenberg” a bit more. But since this tale belongs to Walter, and we as an audience are following his journey from lowly high school teacher to number one drug lord of the American Southwest, we’re simply always going to be on his side. End of story.

*Some other examples from the networks:

1. Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire

2. Don Draper from Mad Men

3. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos

*Notice all these protagonists are of the male variety?

Ed Davad → in Toys

Why We Always Root for the Main Character

Outside of television and inside of literature, this is nothing new. We can argue to the death that Odysseus of Homer’s The Odyssey fits the ancient Greek profile of a hero, but in reality, he was a cocky, philandering, manipulative, and war mongering individual. Yet, we love him. For centuries now, we’ve been giving him importance. We discuss his adventures at length. We analyze his motives. Why? Because The Odyssey is a great story. And whose story is it? That’s right. It’s Odysseus’s story.

Have you ever truly hated a protagonist’s guts? I don’t think it’s possible. Yes, I have encountered some disappointing protagonists (see examples below), but otherwise it seems most character-loathing is saved for villains, antagonists, or other secondary characters.

The protagonist though, despite her many shortcomings is basically the person we’re hanging with as we read the story. She may do some wicked and selfish things, but as readers we’re so appreciative of the story she’s telling us that we’re willing to forgive and forget. Besides, if someone (whether it’s told from first or third person) is essentially spilling her guts, we’re likely to find at least some redeeming qualities.

Examples of characters we hate to love:

Rachel: Protagonist in Emily Giffin’s novel Something Borrowed. Rachel has slept with her best friend’s fiancé. Yet as readers we find ourselves rooting for Rachel to get the guy. She does a great job telling us how she’s always been second-rate next to her alluring friend, Darcy. Plus, we come to discover that Darcy’s done some evil deeds on her own. Rachel basically becomes your buddy. Wouldn’t you take your buddy’s side?

Edna Pontellier: Protagonist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. She simply up and left her family behind (anyone can be forgiven for leaving an unsatisfying marriage, but to nix your parenting responsibilities?) simply because she was having inner-yearnings of something better out there. Yet she was bold, honest, and fearless. And since we’re hearing about her grief on such a deep level, we’re supportive of her decisions.

Ed Davad → in Toys

Examples of disappointing, but not hated protagonists:

Amir: Protagonist in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir watches Hassan, the son of his father’s longtime servant, go through a horrendous experience. Amir, however, does nothing to intervene and then proceeds to feel guilty about it the rest of his life. An underlying motive may be jealously as Amir’s powerful father, Baba, takes an unusual liking to Hassan. Amir is not to be despised, but he proves himself to be a weak character throughout most of the story. It is arguable at the end whether or not the amends he makes does proper justice.

Gene Forrester: Protagonist in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Gene is studious and introverted—which is fine in and of itself, but he’s also insecure. Very, very, insecure. So insecure in fact, that he sabotages the athletic abilities of his sprightly friend, Finny by basically pushing him off a tree limb. Gene spends the remainder of the novel contemplating in an obsessive, incessant way whether or not he intended to do his friend harm.

Both Amir and Gene act on jealous instincts, which are essentially, human. They aren’t evil-minded guys, just vulnerable to life’s natural hierarchy. Despite their actions or lack thereof, they are both phenomenal storytellers, and without their keen perspectives, the books would not be nearly as enjoyable to read.

The truth is we let our protagonists get away with quite a bit, but if we want to hear the story, if want to be entertained, enlightened, mystified and moved, well then, we’re just going to have to put up them.

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Old School Sundays: Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”

Jungle River Ian L → in Plants & trees

I’ve always enjoyed the thematic elements of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness more than the story itself. I studied the book twice, once in high school and then again in college, and I have to admit, both times the story left me cold.

Of course why wouldn’t it? The characters are either evil or uncompassionate at best. The setting—The African Congo during the Age of Imperialism—is grim. And the plot—Marlow, a sailor working for a Belgian trade company, trekking through the jungle, witnessing horror after horror of “trade practices” on the native peoples, to find some lunatic named Kurtz—doesn’t exactly make for a good rainy day read.

Then again, the book did inspire the sensational film Apocalypse Now.

Either way, once the reading was through and I was able to step back and see the broader notions of Heart of Darkness my purpose for reading became clearer.

Thematically, the book explores the absurdity of evil and the greed of imperialism. This line, which I underlined in my copy of the book, says it all:

“Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose” (Conrad, 87).

Aren’t most violent acts in this world essentially pointless? In the case of Heart of Darkness, a forced mutiny of an entire culture was all in the name of ivory.

Is life only as valuable as the worth of certain things? Oil. Diamonds. Money. Drugs. Alcohol.

Or concepts? Religion. Power. Influence. Fame.

For a relatively short novel Heart of Darkness encapsulates the whole of human nature’s ugly side. The attainment of evil often has no ulterior motives. What do we really get in exchange for wickedness? How far do we go before evilness becomes a goal in and of itself? And at what point does it all become pointless? Or as Marlow puts it “for a futile purpose?”

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