The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 18

I like big books and I cannot lie. I have a really flimsy bookcase in my dining area that is full of books that I want to read, that I’ve read and that I want to hold on to forever. The challenge this week is to discuss the book I am currently reading, and one that I just finished reading.

I’m in the middle of trying to get my UK driving licence, so the last book I read was the Highway Code for the UK. I need to know that inside and out to help me driving here. I have my first driving lesson tomorrow, and I am going to attempt to learn how to drive a manual car for the first time (I already apologise to all those that will be on the road near me tomorrow).

The book that I am currently reading is Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. According to Goodreads.com:

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

Unfortunately, McNamara died before she completed the book. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt gave complete access to the lead researcher on the case and he finished the book so that it could be put out for publication. On the 24th of April 2018, the Golden State Killer was captured. I don’t want to say that the book is the reason he was finally found, but I don’t think all the attention that the book brought to the case hurt.

The book is well written but incredibly disturbing. I only read bits of it at a time because the GSK was a violent rapist and sadistic killer. I’d heard about the book from my favourite true crime podcast My Favourite Murder. They did a fantastic podcast detailing the capture of the killer and spoke to the man who completed the research.

It is worth a listen, and for those of you interested in true crime, the book is worth a read.

Alas, I must put all of this to the side for the moment so I can get back to my thesis and finish a draft chapter that should have been completed three weeks ago.

The fun never ends. Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 9

Remember that time I said I was going to write weekly and be really good about sticking to the challenge?

(Please say no)

I currently have 4 jobs and my thesis to complete, and I am feeling a like a bit of a zombie. I haven’t been doing much other than collecting data and commuting, so finding some time to write, and write for pleasure has been sparse.

I had a rare evening off, so I thought maybe if I wrote about something fun and easy then I would be able to do the academic writing tomorrow. The challenge this week is to write about one of my favourite things: BOOKS! The challenge for this week is to write about the five books that I think everyone should read.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This work by Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire changed my life.  The first time I read this I was 22 and working on my MA. It was the first time I had encountered Critical Theory and the first time that I really found someone who felt the same way as I did about the power of education. Freire calls for a new relationship between teacher, student and society.

In 1962, Paulo Freire created culture circles in Northeastern Brazil to support 300 sugar-cane workers to teach each other how to read the word and their world in 45 days, which enabled them to register to vote. These Culture Circles that began with Sugar Cane workers, catalyzed thousands more. Each with the purpose of not just literacy, but conscientization, or which involves people joining with their peers to name their world by reflecting on their conditions, imagining a better world, and then taking action to create it. This approach, developed as much by Freire as the workers he educated, was so galvanizing that he was jailed and exiled by the Military Government within two years (http://www.practicingfreedom.org/pedagogy-of-the-oppressed-what-is-it-and-why-its-still-relevant/).

Critical Theory, and the idea of giving a voice to those that are traditionally marginalised in education has become a driving force in my writing, my research, and my outlook on the world.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

This is a self-help book I can get behind. Fuck is one of my favourite words and I believe that this book should be required reading for everyone when they turn 18. Mark Manson is not subtle, although he does give a fuck. Some gems include:

Think positive?

“Fuck positivity,” Manson says. “Let’s be honest; sometimes things are fucked up and we have to live with it.”

Be extraordinary?

“Not everyone can be extraordinary – there are winners and losers in society, and some if it is not fair or your fault,” Manson writes.

Seek happiness?

“The path to happiness is a path full of shit heaps and shame,” he remarks.

The Sound and the Fury

This book is not for the faint of heart. William Faulkner is one of the greatest American writers of all time (in my opinion of course) and the variety of narrative styles and the complexity of this story just make me want to read it over and over again. There is something about the stream of consciousness writing style that I love. There is something about the tragic fucked up family that I understand. There is something about writing a book in the way you want to regardless of whether people understand it that makes me want to keep writing.

“…I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire…I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
― William FaulknerThe Sound and the Fury

To Kill a Mockingbird

This speaks for itself.

God Went to Beauty School

Cynthia Rylant did something really interesting with this book. It is a collection of vignettes about God as a regular ordinary, everyday man.

God Went to Beauty School

Cynthia Rylant

He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy 
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
“Nails by Jim” He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands--
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds’ wings, 
and after He’d done that
awhile,
He could paint all the nails 
any color He wanted,
then say,
“Beautiful,"
and mean it.

 

Bonus book: Tender Buttons

Gertrude Stein is my favourite poet. Her poems are weird, her life was full of adventure, and she gave zero fucks about convention. As Wikipedia notes: it is a book consisting of three sections titled “Objects”, “Food”, and “Rooms”. While the short book consists of multiple poems covering the everyday mundane, Stein’s experimental use of language renders the poems unorthodox and their subjects unfamiliar.” I first read this book for a poetry class I took in Merced. That was the class that taught me I could be a poet without having to worry about convention, and it is the class that strengthened my bond with some of my favourite people. The book sits on my shelf now….next to The Sound and the Fury.

It is also home to my favourite poem.

Asapagus

Asparagus. Asparagus in a lean in a lean to hot. This makes it art and it is wet wet weather wet weather wet.

It is currently snowing quite hard for Scotland, so I think I am going to pull Tender Buttons off the shelf and enjoy the cozy night in.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 37

I’m behind on the writing challenges because all of my writing has been saved for my PhD. It is very slow going, and I am currently way behind on the word count, but it is progressing, and I am going to do my darndest to try to get myself out of the little funk I have been in and get my work done.

The writing challenge for this week is to open the first book near me, find the tenth word, Google image search the word, and then make an entire post about the photos I find….or something like that. I’m too lazy to open the page with the post guidelines again.

I’m currently reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I opened to a random page and counted to ten. The word I landed on was ‘would’. When you Google image search the word ‘would’, you don’t get a whole lot of good options. It took me a long time, but I finally found two images that caught my eye:

TELEMMGLPICT000137155520_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqKkzUGe8q7_A35DWV6BPUcWH28ZiNHzwg9svuZLxrn1U 

The caption for the first image said, would a Banksy make you buy a home? To be honest, yes, that would be enough to make me buy a house. I am a huge lover of art, and would love having some around the house….or maybe I would just like a house. I’m in the middle of filling out a job application, and it is terrifying. This job would not only allow me to stay in Scotland, but it would allow me to pay my bills and start paying my mom back for all the loan payments she has mae for me in the last two years. It would mean I could afford to get my driving licence and a car, and travel a bit more. It might even mean finding a little place of my own. I love my little flat, but it really isn’t mine. Truthfully, I wish I could buy it so I could stay here and make it my own a little (Which really means I saw an IKEA catalogue and saw all the pretty bathrooms and got a major green-eyed monster thing going). One day though….maybe.

p-1-your-brains-personal-trainer-would-give-you-this-advice

I’m not sure what my brain’s personal trainer would say about my brain, but I really like this picture. Little brains everywhere. I think I like it because I have been making a five year research plan that is aimed at helping Scottish school children getting into university, so all those little brains have been on my brain.

It is raining here….again. I should go out for a jog (yeah, I took up jogging and it is just as ridiculous an image as you think it is), but my couch, where I have been for most of the day, is just so comfy.

and so are my sweat pants.

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 10, 11 and 12

Can you tell I’ve been in California for three weeks visiting my family?

I should be finishing my taxes. I should be fixing the statistics that my supervisor doesn’t like. I should be working on my theory chapter. I should not be eating chocolate, binge watching Sons of Anarchy and staring at a blank Word Doc. That Word Doc has been blank for three weeks. I haven’t even thought about writing. Haven’t even been motivated to sit down and try it. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t do well with the stress of not being motivated.

So, because I am not feeling motivated to write, enjoy my life for the last three weeks in photos. It is hard to be depressed when you are surrounded by family.

I know. All of the photos involve me with my Muffin. That is pretty much how I spent the three weeks. Making sure that he knows who I am since he will be 2 before I can see him again.

I  managed to beat the worst of jet lag coming back, so I’m thinking that by next week I will be back in fighting shape.

I’m going to need it since I am going to have to tackle statistics and my thesis.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 3

“Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.”

-Faulkner

The writing challenge this week is to use the first line of my favorite novel to start my post. I could make up something up and try to be really creative with this, but when I read the line from what I think it is the greatest novel ever written, all I really wanted to do is discuss the book. So I give you my thoughts on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It tells the story of four days in the life of a troubled Southern family from four very different points of view.

Let’s start with the title. It comes from a line in MacBeth, when he learns of his wife’s death:

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
Act V, Scene V

And that is what we get in a sense from the telling of The Sound and the Fury. The story is divided into four parts, each one narrated by a different ‘idiot’. The first section is narrated by Benjy, a 33 year old man who has the mind of a 3 year old. He is a source of great shame to his family, and Faulkner uses stream of consciousness, there are italics to note a shift in time, and this section often reads like a book where all the pages have been put together at random. It was one that I really struggled to get through the first time I read it (thanks Sparknotes for the help!), but it is the one section with the most reliable narrator. Benjy merely tells things the way he sees them, and can do nothing to cover up, distort, or rationalize the choices of his brothers, his family, and the people around him.

The next idiot who shares his woes is Quentin. He is the smartest of the boys, but the one with the most tortured life. He has idiotic ideas of the way the world works thanks to his drink obsessed father, and because of that and an unhealthy obsession with his sister and her purity, eventually kills himself. The last part of his section is hard to read, but also fascinating, as Faulkner has managed to really capture what it might be like inside the head of someone slowly losing their mind. I think that he is the character that suffers the most, makes an interesting case for the nature vs. nurturer argument. He has such a warped view on life, and the roles of family that he is an unreliable narrator, with his descent into madness a strong support for that.

The last of the idiots, and in my opinion, the biggest one, is Jason. He is obsessed with money. He is sexually frustrated. He is a cold monster. He steals money from his sister, he abuses his servants, and he is just an asshole (pardon my French). His section is one that I sometimes skim just because I don’t like him. He is the most unreliable of the narrators because he is so cynical and single minded. This is the easiest part to read in terms of the way it is written, but it does not make Jason any more trustworthy.

The final section is told in the third person and focuses on the servant that runs the household, and her abuse, sadness, and unquestioning loyalty to the family. She takes Benjy to church with her family believing that he is the only one that can truly be saved. We see Benjy breakdown when his routine is altered, giving way to his sound and fury, and his brother Jason being the only one to calm him down. The last lines of the book are perhaps some of the most chilling ever written, and I still get goosebumps when I read them.

“The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.”

Much of my undergrad was focused on the reliability of the narrators in Mark Twain novels, and while I sit in the library today shrugging off some important paper edits, I can’t help but get a little twinge for the good old days when I spent hours and hours reading great books and really digging into literature. Those four years in Merced taught me a lot, and I always thought I’d get a PhD in literature and then grow old teaching university students how to love, and really understand literature. I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if that was the path I had gone down, and whether or not I would be in Scotland right now if I had. I know a few of the struggles would be different, but Ii wonder if all roads would have eventually led here. Then I think about how much I’ve done, and how much I am really starting to like myself, and I realize that I might not feel the same way if my path had been different.

So there you go. My ramblings on a book that is a lot like me, a little bit complicated, very hard to read, but very very very worth it in the end.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 33 and 34

So, it is actually week 35, but I am way behind thanks to vacation and I like to fall behind on things, I am playing catch-up and avoiding the work on my thesis and other work related things. I have to say though, I do feel like I have a renewed energy for my work. The sunshine was good, and a visit from an old friend who went to UC Merced with me have left me feeling a lot happier. I got to play tour guide, and got to be around her wonderful energy. She is about to embark on a master’s degree, and her excitement, passion, and overall love for life and all of its adventures made me feel a lot better about life. I even got to meet one of her fellow cohort members who was equally as lovely, and her youth and love for travel and adventure remind me a lot of myself and how I feel when I am in a new place.

Plus, both of them were such great sports about sleeping on my moderately comfy couch and the floor.

And now on to the challenges. Week 33 is dedicated to my favourite books and why I like them. It would be almost impossible for me to list all of my favourites, in fact, I am pretty sure I have never hated a book….well, War and Peace. I’m still trying to read that. I have managed to think of a few books that I can always go back to.

God Went to Beauty School

According to the Amazon Review:

Cynthia Rylant takes teens on an invigorating spiritual journey as she explores what God’s life on Earth might be like. Rylant’s reflective and often humorous verse follows God as he tries out human activities such as getting a dog, writing a fan letter, and making spaghetti.

God Went to Beauty School combines the awesome with the everyday in an accessible, thought–provoking, and intelligent manner.

I love this book. I’m not especially religious, but the idea that God writes a fan letter, that he goes to a hardware store, even that he takes the bus is hilarious to me. The charm in the writing is the bits of cheeky commentary about these everyday activities and what it is like when the ultimate creator tries to navigate them. I first read this book when I was 15. I checked out from the La Habra Public Library. I found it again when I was 20 and taking a creative writing class, and now have my very own copy tucked away in a box at my parent’s house. If I was going to religious, this is how I would like to imagine God.

Tender Buttons

Gertrude Stein is my hero. I love her poetry, love her spirit, and love the fact that she gave zero fucks about what people thought about her. Her innovative writing emphasizes the sounds and rhythms rather than the sense of words. By departing from conventional meaning, grammar and syntax, she attempted to capture “moments of consciousness,” independent of time and memory.

Here is my favourite poem of all time

ASPARAGUS.

Asparagus in a lean in a lean to hot. This makes it art and it is wet wet weather wet weather wet.

I owe my love of this poem to Jared Stanely. He taught me a lot about poetry. He taught me a lot about poetry that didn’t follow the rules, that was a little bit odd, and was a whole lot of my personality.

Savage Art

Death was his art. She would be his masterpiece. They called him Leonardo-a master skilled in the art of murder. One year ago, Cincinnati was his canvas. A scalpel was his tool. And women were his works-in-progress. FBI profiler Casey McKinley was one of them, a victim of Leonardo’s twisted genius. She has the scars-and the nightmares-to prove it. For Casey, a new city means a life far from the one she left behind in Cincinnati. In San Francisco she finally feels safe. Until a series of eerily familiar slayings plunges her back into Leonardo’s game. Now she must catch this clever killer before he can unveil his ultimate masterpiece. Only this time she’ll play by a different set of rules-hers.

I read this book in two hours. I couldn’t put it down. In fact, in thinking about this book, I went on Amazon and bought a copy.

To Kill a Mockingbird

I’m not sure this one needs an explanation. Beautiful writing.

Anything by Mark Twain. 

I’ve read everything he has ever written. I could no sooner choose a favourite star in the heavens.

Wow. Now all I want to do is go home and curl up in my window box in the sun with a book. Not good for the rest of my workday.

Week 34 is dedicated to my best friend

This one is tough for me. If I call someone my friend, then I consider them my best friend. I don’t spend a lot of time maintaining casual friends. I’m not really good at it, so the people in my life are all pretty freaking fantastic.

I’ve also spent a lot of time talking about the people in my life who are important to me and I’d rather go find a book now that will keep me entertained on my hour and a half commute home.

The Scamp Sets a Watchman

I just finished reading the new novel by Harper Lee. Well, not exactly new, as it is supposedly the first manuscript that eventually led to To Kill a Mockingbird. It took me all of a week to read it, and to be honest, I am not sure that I liked what I read.

I tried to like it, I really did. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it numerous times, and always loved Scout, the pugnacious six-year-old who hated dresses, loved to read, and thought fighting was the best way to solve a problem. One of my favorite lines from the book was, and in a way, still is:

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”.

I remember reading the book in high school and having numerous discussions about racism, moral compasses, and rape. I remember feeling like the discussions sounded much the same way a Sparknotes summary would read; kinda surface level, lacking of a deeper discussion, and very focused on how racism is bad, and how a good strong moral compass will always lead a person to the right answer (whether it is the popular choice or not). I remember reading the book a year or so ago, and feeling differently about the characters. While I still loved Scout, I found her somewhat naive, and in the process, found myself somewhat naive for missing a big piece of the story; Atticus Finch was always a racist. When Go Set a Watchman was first announced, people were outraged by Atticus being painted as a racist who attends Klan meetings, and despises the NAACP. At first, I was in that boat. How dare Atticus been shown as anything other than noble. Then I noticed he takes on the case of Tom Robinson stating that just because you already lost the game before it started, doesn’t mean you should play. He took the case because he was asked to by the judge, not necessarily because he thought Tom Robinson deserved justice. As the article Atticus Was Always a Racist: Why Go Set a Watchman Is No Surprise states:

 Throughout Mockingbird, Atticus is engaged in the foundational moonlight-and-magnolias Southern delusion that so swayed Ashley Wilkes and Ellen O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. He fought with the genteel cruelty of the slaver, in service of the other American dream, which is the idea that a man can  be the ultimate patriarch: the cultivated master of the lower orders, the head of a family that extends through his wife and children down through the slaves. Everyone but the patriarch, it’s assumed, is slowly developing out of moral infancy—and as such, the patriarch is charged with leading everyone in religion, work ethic and cleanliness. Atticus is the son of slave owners, and he’s acting the part of one when he argues that Tom Robinson is from a clean-living family, and the black servant Calpurnia can be trusted raising white kids—this is the race equivalent of chivalry, the imperiled pedestal.

At 16, there was no way I was clever enough to notice this. At 26, I did, but tried to pretend that was not what I was reading. There was no way that I was reading that one of my favorite literary characters was not actually a strong moral compass, but merely a man who had a strong sense of right and wrong, but was still deeply flawed when it came to racial equality. I had set my watchman in Atticus Finch, and there was no way that he was anything less than the strong moral compass I saw him as when I first encountered the book more than ten years ago. This is where Go Set a Watchman comes into play.

This book is also written from Scout’s point-of-view, but this time she is a 26-year-old living in New York. She has returned home to Alabama to visit her father. That is about the extent of what happens. While home, Scout gets in a fight with Atticus and is forced to shake off her naivete and see the world for what it really is, and her father is not the God-like idol that she has built him up to be. The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” It alludes to Jean Louise Finch’s view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass (“watchman”) of Maycomb, and has a theme of disillusionment, as she realizes her bigotry.

The problem with this book is the dialogue is awful, the story is often boring, and Scout is such a snotty 20 something that you cannot wait for her to get her comeuppance. The fight she has with Atticus is actually resolved way too easily, and it in the end, Scout decides that she cannot beat the crowd, and she won’t join them, so she ops to just sit on the sidelines and pretend what they are doing is a-okay. Chance Lee wrote a very insightful piece on the books. While I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said, there was one particular passage that really stood out for me:

The only interesting part of this book is the climax: the actual argument between Jean Louise and Atticus. However, the denouement ruins any impact this climactic battle may have had. In it, Jean Louise is slapped so violently by her uncle that her mouth bleeds. She learns that, as a young woman, she should respect the beliefs of elder white men. To not compromise with those who refuse to compromise, Jean Louise is a bigot. Her racist father, her racist aunt, are not bigots because they are right: whites are superior to Negroes.

This is a frustrating argument that still exists today, when religious fanatics who believe that their personal beliefs trump the human rights of others beg “tolerance.” Your hate is not to be tolerated. If any benefit comes from this book, it is to show us that we, as a society, have not evolved as much as we should have in the last fifty years.

The entire article can be found here: http://chancelee.com/2015/07/14/dont-set-a-watchman/ and is well worth the read.

I guess this is why I had trouble liking the story. One of the greatest literary characters of all time turned out to be a phony, and much the way Scout realizes her naivete, I now see that sometimes great men (real or literary) are not really all that great, and it is best to be your own watchman because at the end of the day, the only person who can really steer you down the right path is you.