Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Stages of Dissapointment

I love music.  There is no other way to say it; I just do.  So, when there came an opportunity to sing in the choir at school in 7th grade, I took the leap and tried out.  Now, I went to a very sweet, Lutheran elementary school where, as long as you weren't tone deaf, you could get into the choir.  However, I haven't left choir from then till now.  Even when I had to make the dreadful scheduling choice between band and choir, I chose to sing.  Now, as a junior, I am finally becoming more confident in my voice, along with other things, and am trying to step out more.  For our Spring Fine Arts Night, the men and women of our choir split up to sing two gender specific songs, in which there were a few opportunities for solos.  Empowered by being an upperclassmen, I tried out, tightly holding my music with trembling hands.  I went a week without knowing whether I made it or not, but I found out today.
I didn't make the cut.
The two seniors in my class split the first solo and a freshman took all of the second.  When I heard, I was devastated, but only on the inside, of course.  On the outside I laughed it off, saying that it was probably better that I didn't get a solo, because who knew how many days it would take for me to regain my voice? Inside I was switching through emotions in the rapid way only a distraught woman can.  I can't remember the exact order of all of the feelings in the beginning, but I'll try my best.  First off, I was hurt.  Obviously this means that I wasn't good enough to make the cut.  Then, I was angry.  "Mr. Nuemiller totally doesn't like me! Of course the seniors all got solos, but how in the world did a freshman get chosen over me?" Then there was apathy. "I don't care, I didn't really want a solo all that much anyway."  Then my selfish brain finally added in the fact that one of the seniors who got a solo is one of my best friends.
That was when I started thinking more clearly.
I had been going on about how we weren't takin choir seriously enough, and now we were.  I didn't make the cut, but that doesn't mean that I can't make it next time.  I love my friend and she will do an amazing job with the solo, all of the other girls will, but that won't stop the new competitive spark inside of me.  If there's one thing I like, it's winning. ;)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Death of a Salesman


I recently caught up on yet another honors paper that I neglected to do while I was swamped with homework after my concussion.  I decided to read (and sparknote) the play "Death of a Salesman".  Reading this play, I had much the same reaction that I did to the Great Gatsby.  For the record, I did like the Great Gatsby, I just was not as enamored with the book as I was led to believe that I would be. In the Great Gatsby, I find myself trying to root on a good over an evil, in the form of Daisy and Gatsby.  When this good ultimately fails, I find myself wanting some sense of emotional closure.  It's not a happy book, but I suppose that it was never meant to be.  The Great Gatsby reflects the 20's in more ways than the style of the times.  The book itself is glamorous on the outside, full of colorful language and exciting details that enthrall the reader.  However, when one gets to the end of the book, they see that the glitter on the exterior was a hollow shell, and the real message of the book is one of the hopelessness of ideals.  Death of a Salesman is essentially the same message, but with a darker passage.  Willy the salesman has tried to fulfill his ideal and hope of being a successful business man and provider for his family, but his mind fractures under the pressure and he goes insane before committing suicide.  All said and done, junior English class has had a remarkably dark feel over the past year.  That, or I have just had a more cynical approach to most of the topics presented.
As a Lutheran, one of the principle things that one is taught to separate is law and gospel, that which condemns and that which saves.  Looking back, I realize that this year has been almost all law, condemning the American Dream, vice, and other naive fantasies, but almost nothing that has a theme of hope.  The early works of T. S. Eliot are much the same, attacking the shallow, vain exterior of life and trying to expose an emptiness within.  Many people say that Eliot lost his edge after converting to Christianity, and that his later works reflect that.  I think that quite the opposite is true.  Eliot, already cynical concerning the shallowness of materialism, found that, instead of a vacuum beneath the shell, there was something deeper.  That breaking through to something deeper, not just a void of nothingness, is what keeps one from despairing in the face of what would seem to be a cruel, vain world of shallow interests.  Keeping that in mind, I tend to be less depressed by books like these.
Though that was a long rabbit trail away from what I was meaning to post, I hope that it was at least a bit sensible.  Here is my paper on Death of a Salesman, as I posit that a warped expectation of himself and others, formed by the American dream, led Willy to commit suicide. (I apologize for the formatting, I have not quite worked everything out)

Death of a Salesman shows how the American dream fractured the mind of one man to the point of despair.  Using this man as an example of what ideals can do to one’s psyche, Americans should learn not to put all of their faith into reaching an ideal such as the American dream, for it is impossible.  A warped expectation of himself and other, formed by the idea of the American dream, destroyed Willy’s life.

Over the course of Willy’s life, he strove to succeed in business the only way that he knew possible - by being well liked.  “Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”  Willy wanted to be that epitome of a provider for his family, the wealthy, well-liked, well-groomed salesman who makes something of himself.  Unfortunately, this idea of being “well-liked” is comparatively shallow when compared to actual love.
Willy’s wife, Linda, continually sees through Willy’s lies and self-delusion, but still stands by him steadfastly.  She cares for him and for her family even Willy isn’t a good father.  Unfortunately, Willy is forever striving for being “well-liked” and being helped ahead into his business.  This is why Willy has his affair with the woman, who doesn’t love him, but likes him and pushes him forward in business.  He is enamored with the fact that “she picked him”.  The family component of the American dream is overridden by Willy’s dreams of success and wealth.
Throughout the play, various instances hint that Willy’s true passions lie not in being a salesman, but in working with his own hands.  You can see this in his lament at the loss of space in his neighborhood when he says “The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow anymore, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?”.  Even then he wishes he was not a part of the urban life that he had chosen.
Willy also wishes that he had gone to Alaska with his brother Ben, saying to his wife, “God! Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time! Ben! That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate! What a mistake! He begged me to go.”  Ben found fortune working with his hands when he found a diamond mine, although Willy fails to see that this is a stroke of luck and not a product of Ben’s work.
Even when Willy is talking to his delusion of his dead brother, he tries to convince Ben that he goes hunting saying, “Oh, sure, there’s snakes and rabbits and—that’s why I moved out here. Why, Biff can fell any one of these trees in no time! Boys! Go right over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand. We’re gonna rebuild the entire front stoop right now! Watch this, Ben!”  At one time in America, Ben would have been considered the ideal of a pioneer, just what a man should be, but now the paradigm had shifted to a new ideal, the salesman.  Willy even stops his son Biff, who is much like Willy, from going out west and working on a farm.
Happy takes after Willy too, but in the way that he lies to others about his status.  Willy is constantly inflating his commission to his wife, even though she knows it is a lie, and even turns down Charlie’s offer of a steady job because of his own pride.  Willy even lies to his boss in a desperate attempt to retain his job saying, “In 1928 I had a big year. I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions”.
The ideal that Willy was so desperately trying to live up to forced him to lie to others and to himself until he eventually could not tell the difference between his lies and reality.  He fantasizes about his dead brother, who had abandoned him like his father, and tries to live in a past that he imagines as so much better.  Willy cannot cope with the fact that he has failed at every turn to live up to the standard that he has set himself.  Though the American dream professes truth, Willy is so obsessed with his image that he lives in a world of lies and deceit.  At the end of the play, Biff realizes this and says “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years.”
All of these factors led to Willy not being able to handle the state of reality and ultimately despairing and committing suicide.  If a society places all of it’s hope in being able to achieve success based on how hard they work and material good, it will always end up coming to despair.  Humans cannot achieve true happiness from gaining possessions and being “well-liked”, as Willy so desperately wanted to be.  In Death of a Salesman, the American dream proves to be a shallow, unreachable ideal that the ordinary “dime a dozen” man can never fulfil.  This perverted sense of an unreachable standard is what ultimately kills Willy.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fashion? What's fashion?

My little sister and I cannot seem to decide whether we are opposites or the same person. On one hand, you never want to be on the opposite team if we're playing a guessing game; my sister and I can communicate easily without making a sound and send each other into peals of laughter. On the other hand, when it comes to music, fashion, hair, friends, colors, art, and anything else, we are polar opposites. She likes one direction and Rihanna while I abhor mainstream pop, hip hop, and rap and would much rather listen to Celtic punk.  She loves pink while 80% of my wardrobe is black, and the other 20% blue.  The most I do with my hair, even for big occasions, is curl or straighten it, while she takes an hour every morning to get read and likes bumps. She dyed her hair lighter blond on the day when I dyed mine black. Now we are clashing yet again, this time over my prom dress.  I can't post a picture of it (because certain boyfriends might want to look before prom), but I adore it and my sister does not.  She has picked out some of my favorite dresses, but this time we differ big time.  Out of every sparkly, bright mermaid dress she sent in, I chose a long, close-fitting  black dress. Even now, after I took my stand and bought it, I can tell that she thinks that I am crazy.
Even as I think about this, I realize that many good things have come out of my sister and I being so different. Being that painfully shy girl, I ran into plenty of stereotypical 'mean girls' that ruined my view of preppy, popular girls. This is probably what started me in the direction of liking the color black, death metal, and hating pop and pink.  However, despite this, my sister has shown me a whole other side of what would seem to be the stereotypical pretty blond girl.  My sister is one of the sweetest being who has ever been created. She is popular and beautiful, but kind and generous. We are different, but I love her more than anything else in the whole world, even if she doesn't like my prom dress. Without her, I might have become a bitter, popular-hating hipster, no better than those who hurt me in the past.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hipster - what is in a name?

"Hipster" is such a nearly hypocritcal term in today's vocabulary, that I find that I confuse even myself with it's usage. The other day I happened to mention to a friend rather sheepishly that I felt like a failure of a hipster for starting a blog after my friend did. Her response was something along the lines of 'why would you call yourself such a vile insult of a term?!', and that is not paraphrasing much.  I had to explain to her that I did not want to be one of those hipsters that is arrogant about their tastes and wears skinny jeans and Ray-Ban glasses with their nearly androgynous haircuts. I think that hipsters started out as people who wanted to like what they liked without being influenced by the general atmosphere of fashion and taste. The very fact that hipsters now have a specific subculture contradicts the very base of that which they profess.
I am not trying to claim that I am not affected by peer pressure at all, I am far from that. If my brother suggests anything I automatically like it because I am pretty sure that he is the coolest person to ever walk the Earth (besides Jesus). On the other hand, if my sister suggests music, I am bound to hate it.  Now, this mostly has to do with the fact that my brother and I have very similar tastes while my little sister is the exact opposite of me in most things, but also because I wish to identify more with my brother's subculture than my sister's preppy, fashionable one.
So, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will always be influenced by others in my choices, but also challenged myself to think for myself. If being a 'hipster' means that I have to only listen to obscure, indie music and never like anything mainstream, then I am not a hipster. However, if being a hipster means that I can rock out with a sonic screwdriver in my prom dress while blasting Celtic punk after playing Assassin's Creed, then hell yeah I'm a hipster! 

Mother's Day

Being a human, I happen to have a mother.  Being a teenage girl, I happen to be at odds with her very often.  Mother's Day reminds me that I would not be here without my mom, and not only from the standpoint that she gave me birth.  I remember how I could not go to sleep at night unless I had a hug from mommy, it was absolutely impossible.  Remembering that shows me that while I may be a teenager that now knows everything, there was still a time that I needed my mommy to hug me before I went to bed.  What I was surprised to remember was that I still need my mommy, maybe more than ever now.
It very seldom happens, but I have been known to talk in my sleep. One of these incidents happened about a year ago with my mom. Having fallen asleep reading yet again, my mom wen into my bedroom to turn off my light. What she didnt know is that I had yet again cried myself to sleep with one of the world consuming highschool problems that I would not stoop to tell my parents about.  Well, when my mom opened my door and turned off my light, I started mumbling. (This is all told to me by my mom, I have no memory of this event.) When she asked me what was wrong, I told her that I needed a hug before I went to sleep.  She gave me a hug and I went right back to sleep.
Though I may be able to put band aids on my own skinned knees, I still need my mommy. Without her I never could have become the woman I am today. And without her, I will never be the woman that I hope to become - my mom.

Starting a Blog...

The reasons that I decided to start a blog were simple: my best friend just started one and I wanted to put off writing another honors paper today.  I sometimes think contemptuously of people that need attention so badly that they always put all of their thoughts and emotions out there for anyone and everyone to see, so I don't want this to become one of THOSE blogs.
I can honestly say that I have no idea what the purpose of this blog will be.  I chose the title "Madwoman With a Blog" firstly because it's a play off of the quote "madman with a box" from Doctor Who, but also because I feel like I am succumbing to being like much of my generation - frivolous with whatever power is given to them.  I could use this blog to try to bring about social justice and enlighten the minds of my fellow man, but I don't think that I will.  I will mainly use this as a place to rant and ramble about things that no one really cares about at all.  The glorious thing is that it doesn't matter because no one HAS to read this.  This is for me and I am going to be selfish.
So, now comes the part where I actually have to write things.


For my Old Testament class, we were all assigned a huge group assignment that took about a month to present.  As part of the papers due at the end of this presentation, I was assigned a paper on "how my personal relationship with God has changed".  Now, I don't know if I am excessively reserves, but I don't like to share my feelings, especially deep feeling, with very many people.  And by very many people I mean everyone in the world except for a special few that I can count on one hand.  Because of this reluctance to show my feelings, I decided that I would do a more general approach to this paper.  While trying not to sound conceited, I can admit that writing papers is not an exceptionally hard venture for me.  I love to write and I understand most of the topics covered in school, so papers don't scare me one bit.  Right now, I am hoping that writing a nice, well thought out paper will save me from avoiding the actual prompt.  Here is my view on how the book of Judges pertains to the life of a Christian.

I have read parts of Judges before this class through the lectionary, so I was aware of the text and some of it’s history.  For instance, I knew that the book of Judges was written by Samuel.  However, I do find that reading through something with the intention of teaching it does tend to help you pick out some interesting themes in the reading.  What I was not prepared for, however, was the amount of in depth discussions produced by my presentation.
One thing that is very prevalent in Judges is the “pattern” of the relationship between God and his people.  I found that this relationship is really what sparked most of our conversations, because understanding that relationship is a struggle that all Christians must endure in this murky world of sin and shades of grey.  I found that the pattern of sin, repentance, and redemption was very comparable to the story of Christianity as a whole, and to our lives of faith, in both the short and long term.
Humanity was created perfect, without sin, and in the image of God himself.  In the garden, we chose to rebel against God and, in doing so, the whole human race plunged both ourselves and our world into sin.  Even though we were fallen, God heard the cry of even Adam and Eve, and gave the proto evangel.  He promised the deliverer, a judge and saviour.  Christ was the fulfilment of that promise, and through him, the world has a means of deliverance.
Each of us is born with original sin into a broken world.  God first loves us and reaches to us through the Word.  We cry out in repentance and receive the deliverance  that Christ won for us through baptism.  We then continue on in faith and grace, being sustained by word and sacrament.  These are both large views of how the pattern portrayed in Judges applies to us, but I also think that this relates to our everyday struggles.
As Christians, we continually struggle in a war between being sinner and saint, a war that will never end until this earthly life is over.  We sin daily, forgetting God or just rebelling against him.  In this, we are like the Israelites: forgetting what God has done for us and insisting upon going our own way.  Fortunately, our God is a steadfast God that never will abandon us.  When we repent, we receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ won and are washed clean.  In this way, we live like the Israelites of the Old Testament.
The biggest difference between us and the Israelites, however, is that they were bound by the law.  Their covenant was a covenant of human obligation, one that they must earn.  Our covenant is in the blood of Christ, acted by Christ, and sustained by Christ.  We could not come to God without him first loving us, and we could not earn the salvation without the blood of Christ, and we would soon despair if not held up by the Word and sacrament.  In this we are a world different than the Israelites.
This is not to say that we do not have to do anything.  Saint James tells us that a faith without works is dead, and if we are saved by grace through faith, then that faith must surely be alive.  The problem that we can run into is thinking that God does the first part and then all of the rest is up to us.  I think that thinking like that can be exceedingly dangerous, for it puts the weight of our salvation upon our own shoulders.  We must remember that our faith is sustained by the Holy Spirit, which does come to us through Word and sacrament.  We must stay in the Church, in scripture, to continue to grow as Christians, and the good works will flow out of that.  For, if we truly understand how God loves us, and that our neighbors are created in the image of God, how could we stand to watch another suffer?
This was one of the biggest things that Judges made me think of.  This train of thought led me down many paths that would be too lengthy to mention here, but I will try to summarize it the best that I can.  God never abandoned the Israelites, and he will never abandon us.  My faith comes from God, is strengthened by God, and, if I cling to him, I know he will never leave me, regardless of how many times that I wander.

Sirens of Titan

Now, I know that most people go into English and dread having to read anything by Kurt Vonnegut, which is perfectly understandable, but I have found that I actually appreciate his books very much.  When assigned an honors paper on Slaughterhouse Five, I chose to read another book by Vonnegut, rather than avoiding him.  I'm not sure if blogs are supposed to have a common theme, but my view is that they can be about whatever the heck I want to write about, especially since I'm pretty sure that no one else will ever be reading this unless I happen to become famous.  If that happens, people will be able to write biographies about me and put in that I once had a poorly organized, spontaneous blog when I was sixteen.  That being said, here is my view of how Sirens of Titan showed Kurt Vonnegut's internal struggle to find meaning in life.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the fascinating, controversial writers of modern history.  His works strike poignantly at many of the questions that every person asks themselves at one point or another.  As one can see by looking at Kurt Vonnegut’s life, he struggled with the basic questions of life, such as why he should continue to go on living.  In Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut shows several characters who struggle with the same questions, and through them shows what he believed to be the ways that people deal with them.
The character of Boaz has the closest thing to a redemption story as anyone in the book.  When the reader first meets Boaz, he is a commander of the Martian army, torturing his fellow soldiers through the antennae in their heads.  Once he crash lands on Mercury, however, he has a change of heart.  While on Mercury, he befriends small creatures called harmoniums that live on sounds.  He finds great joy in playing music for them and making them happy.  One of the saddest passages is from Boaz’s point of view when he forgets to keep watch on the harmoniums, and hundreds of them die because they absorb too much music.

Boaz finds that life needs some sort of purpose, and this purpose he finds through the harmoniums.  When Unk, who is actually Malachi Constant, tries to convince Boaz to come back to Earth with him, Boaz refuses saying, “I found me a place where I can do good without doing any harm, and I can see I'm doing good, and them I'm doing good for know I'm doing it, and they love me, Unk, as best they can. I found me a home.”  The sense of belonging is enough to keep Boaz on Mercury for the rest of his life.
A recurring item in Vonnegut’s books is the planet Tralfamadore.  In Siren’s of Titan, one is introduced to the character of Salo, a robot from Tralfamadore with a mission.  He was sent from Tralfamadore with a message to another civilization on the other side of the universe, but his ship broke down on the journey, stranding him on the moon Titan.  He was sworn never to open the message, and he waits patiently for thousands of years as a replacement part for his ship is sent all the way from Tralfamadore.
A consequence of these Tralfamadorians is the manipulation of Earth.  Vonnegut states that almost all of the great events or feats in Earth’s history were manipulated by the Tralfamadorians to send brief, encouraging messages to Salo on Titan.  The time-traveler Rumford asks Salo to open the message for him just before he disappears into space.  Salo, against his programming, decides to open the message and read it.  The message contains only a single dot, which, in his language, means “greetings”.
Salo, angry that his entire life has now proved to be seemingly pointless, decides to disassemble himself.  The quote, “When you get right down to it, everybody's having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everyone. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much” shows that Vonnegut doesn’t think very highly of how life ends up working out.  Having seen a war, Vonnegut has seen the very worst side of humanity.  Ending up old and alone, Vonnegut even tried and failed to take his own life, obviously ascribing to the thought that nothing could help anyone.
Malachi Constant is the main character of Siren’s of Titan.  Much like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, Malachi has very little choice of what is to happen throughout his life.  “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”  These accidents lead Malachi to Mars, where he fathers a child, is brainwashed into an army, unknowingly kill his best and only friend, and is sent away to Mercury by Rumford.  Malachi has almost no choice in any of these matters, though he tries his hardest to avoid every prophecy spoken to him.
After he is sent off of Earth as a scapegoat for Rumford’s religion, Malachi ends up on Titan with his son and the woman who he was mated with on Mars.  There, they all struggle with how to continue living without the usual motivations of a society.  Their son, Chrono, decides to live with the giant blue birds that live on Titan.  Though Malachi and Beatrice, the mother of his child, initially cannot stand each other, they gradually grow to cherish each other.  Once Beatrice dies, Malachi puts the disassembled Salo back together to take him to Earth.
Unfortunately, once on Earth, Malachi dies of hypothermia.  Salo, trying to ease Malachi’s passing, hypnotizes him and makes him believe that he has been reunited at last with his best friend that he killed on Mars.  The quote “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” sums up the way Malachi chose to keep living.  Even though his life had been manipulated by others, he chose to love until his dying day.
The choices of these three characters shows the struggle that Vonnegut had within himself.  As mentioned previously, Vonnegut had at one time chosen to end his own life, but that is not the only way that he chose.  When he was a younger man, he raised his nieces after his sister died, an act of selfless love.  Perhaps the thought that kept Vonnegut alive to die a natural death was one of love and home, the same things that sustained Malachi and Boaz.  For, if there is one thing that could help someone while they’re “having a perfectly lousy time of it”, it would be love.