Short Hiatus

Hello, faithful readers!

As the end of the school year draws nigh, we the writers are dealing with a lot of transition type things. Some of us are preparing for new teaching jobs in the fall, some of us are focusing on school and some of us (!) are getting married.

Unfortunately, real life has to take priority over our literary endeavors, so the Uncommonplaces will be taking backseat for a while.

There should be a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review coming fairly soon, but until next school year starts, updates will probably be fairly irregular.

Thank you for your patience, and keep an eye on the facebook page for updates!

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Thoughts That Arise

Break, break, break,

On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman’s boy,

That he shouts with his sister at play!

O well for the sailor lad,

That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on

To their haven under the hill;

But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,

And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,

At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!

But the tender grace of a day that is dead

Will never come back to me.

– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ever since I first watched “Anne of Green Gables” and heard Megan Follows reciting “The Lady of Shalott,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson has been one of my favorite poets. There were so many poems I wanted to write about this month, but I chose this one a) because it is short enough for me to quote the whole thing, and b) because the imagery is so beautifully striking.

This poem is an elegy written after the death of one of Tennyson’s dear friends. It is full of the melancholy that comes with watching people be happy when you yourself are grieving a terrible loss. The sense of finality in the poem is contrasted with the constant, never-ending breaking of waves.

There is something about the sea that entrances us. It is easy to spend hours simply staring out at the ocean and thinking. The effect this has on one’s mood is fascinating. When I look at the sea, I get wistful, sad, and hopeful, sometimes all at once. What is it about an endless gray expanse of water that creates this effect? I have no idea, but I think Tennyson does a good job capturing it in his poem.

Tennyson’s rhythmic lines “Break, break, break” clearly echo the sound of waves crashing, and his wish to be able to put his thoughts into words expresses the wistfulness that comes with being near the ocean. It is a poem that anyone who has lost a loved one will relate to, and that is why I love it.

In the Dark

“Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light”

“Darkness,” Lord Byron

This is probably one of my favorite poems. Dark and gruesome (deceptively so at first), “Darkness” embodies a tormented soul. All the horror and confusion of a sun snuffed out spills itself through the pen of Lord Byron.

But Byron’s real trick, and the reason I’ve always found myself drawn to the Romantics (who are not nearly as lovey-dovey as their name might sound to the uninitiated), is his grasp of human nature. Humans are a tangled bunch who, despite our many differences, share some fundamental similarities. Take away the sun, and it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Dry up all the water, and it doesn’t matter how many community service hours you logged in high school. Suck the air from our lungs, and we all collapse gasping.

“Darkness,” when read in its entirety, has very little to do with the sun. But you’ll have to read the whole poem to find out why. Maybe, when you revive yourself and leave the darkness, you’ll have found a new appreciation for the light.

More to Say

Imagine how it would be
If you were discriminated against
Without a chance to show your inner self,
Without a chance to speak up.
That was my life for a long time
It hurt then.
The discrimination still goes on
It hurts now.
But I decided that I have more to say
Then you might want to listen.

Amy Sequenzia, My Voice, My Life

April has the dual honor of being both National Poetry Month and Autism Acceptance month. Overall, we will be focusing on poets this month, but I thought it would be lovely to kick it off with a spotlight on an autistic poet! Continue reading “More to Say”

Unfamiliar

“You don’t have to beat people to treat them brutally.”

Kindred, Octavia Butler

For those of you who have never heard of Kindred, let me give you a short genre overview. This is a sci-fi leaning book that deals with slavery head on. It’s written by a black female author from the perspective of a similar woman. It is also a book that I hadn’t heard of until I specifically looked for authors I wouldn’t normally read. I had to dig for this gem, and I’m not exactly sure why.

Without giving too much away, Kindred takes a beloved sci-fi trope and uses it to explore territory more familiar than foreign. Every American child knows that slavery existed. But I would venture to say that very few privileged children (or adults) have felt slavery this viscerally. From my tentative attempts at listening, I imagine many marginalized people relate much more naturally to this narrative of slavery. They recognize it and its aftereffects in ways that I, as a white woman, had not. Which makes this novel even more important.

Kindred deserves an important place in our educational system. High schoolers should be reading Kindred. College students should be discussing the themes Butler brings up. This book, written in the late 70s, is still very much relevant.  Full of rich characters, Kindred brings alive a sense of humanity and rights that is so easily lost in my own privileged experience. And it’s a great reminder that, whatever our situation in life, we should be reading things that seem unfamiliar at first glance. We might find that the emotions and truths are closer to us than we ever dreamed.

Ugly

courtesy of wikimedia commons
Vase with Tulips Andries Daniels and Frans Francken the Younger

“Only he with the hobbled foot knows the beauty of running. Only he with the severed ear can appreciate what the sweetest music must sound like. Our ailments complete us. That we in our sinful souls can ever imagine charity- ‘She can’t go on for a moment. ‘We may not always be able to practice charity, but that in this world we can even imagine it at all! That act of daring requires the greatest challenge,”
Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

“…perhaps charity is the kind of beauty that we comprehend the best because we miss it the most.”
Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Do you know what it is like to be beautiful?  Continue reading “Ugly”

A Place Called Home

“I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.”

–“The Cat that Walked by Himself,” Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling

I’m a sucker for all things poetic, and the rhythm of this line has been ringing in my ears for a few weeks now (though perhaps that has something to do with the child who has been repeating it to me virtually nonstop since we read the story). Regardless of the why, I’ve been murmuring Kipling’s line over and over, mulling over the beauty and simplicity of the language.

And then, as I was turning this quote over in the back of my mind, I realized: the Cat is telling a lie. Of course, this should be obvious. If all places are alike to him, why does he continue to return to the cave with the man? Perhaps, the Cat reasons, there are benefits to certain places that he cannot receive elsewhere. So he devises a game. Because–you must not forget, O Best Beloved–the Cat is the most wild of all beasts and will not stand to be kept like the Dog or the Horse or the Cow.

The Cat’s struggle is our struggle. We want the comfort and security of a place that is different from all others. Yet, we are stubbornly independent and defy our own desire by claiming, “All places are alike to me.” We want all the benefit with none of the responsibility. And so the wild Cat–the clever Cat–makes his own way. He is helpful when he wants to be, only insofar as it creates the different place the other creatures call home. But he demands his right to disappear, to abandon the family he has grafted himself into, and to return to the wild places at any time. It is quite a feline scheme–and also a very human one.

“I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me,” and thus I remain independent. But that one place–that place made different and called ‘home’–I will treat with the sacredness and flippancy of the Cat, so that it is mine and under my control. Though I wonder if someday the Cat–and perhaps we too–will find that the different place cannot truly be home until we give up control and shoulder the burden along with the benefit.

One Struggle; One Fight

We are not a menace, and we will not be silent any longer.

– Roma Guy, “When We Rise”

This past week, ABC aired a docudrama called “When We Rise” about the LGBT rights movement. It starts with the Stonewall Riots and continues through the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Whatever your political leanings, I would highly recommend the four-part series to anyone interested in the history of the gay rights movement, although it does contain some adult content. The drama is interspersed with actual footage from the time these struggles were taking place and was co-written with three activists (who are also portrayed as the main characters) at the center of it all.

The series is a moving depiction of the fight for equal rights for all Americans. While it focuses on gay, lesbian, and transgender issues, it also brings in the mistreatment of women, black people, and those who are impoverished. From the AIDS epidemic to police beating women at a peaceful protest to a black man being refused service at a bar, its true story is compelling and heartbreaking. There is nothing more essentially human than love and loss, and this series is full of both.

Throughout the movement we see disadvantaged groups slowly learning how to join hands and fight for their rights together rather than competing with each other. This is one of the most central messages of the series – that none of us can be truly free until all of us are. It is all “one struggle; one fight.” It is pointless to advocate for ourselves while leaving others behind.

Because the series covers a span of about forty years, it feels a bit disjointed at times. The change to older actors between the second and third episodes is especially odd. But that does not negate the importance of the message. If you do not have time to watch the entire series, just watch the first episode or two. And no matter who you are or what background you come from, I hope you will be able to relate to the essentially human struggle in this series.

Underneath

Vivian Mitchell: Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.

Dorothy Vaughan: I know. I know you probably believe that.

Hidden Figures

This, I think, is the most succinct summation of non-institutionalized racism I’ve encountered. For those of you who haven’t read or seen Hidden Figures, Vivian Mitchell is white. Dorothy Vaughan is not. Mrs. Vaughan is one of the three African-American women featured in this film. She is one of the dozens of black women who worked at NASA in the 60s. She is one of the dozens who were not permitted to use the same bathroom as their counterparts. She is one of the dozens who worked without proper recognition to get our space program off the ground–literally. And while I really wanted to use Katherine Johnson’s coffee pot monologue, it was long and beautiful and better listened to than read. So go buy the movie ticket and enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll direct your attention back to racism and the above quote. Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) pauses just after her first “I know.” I felt the audience around me hold their breath, shocked by the statement. Then Vaughan continues. “I know you probably believe that.” Collective gut punch.

It’s so easy to think of racism as somebody else’s problem, as something that I don’t have to deal with. Surely I‘m not racist. I’m a good person. And therein lies the danger. Maybe I’m not racist. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a serious look at what I might be doing, saying, or merely implying that is in fact racist, though I believe it not to be so.

At the close of this year’s Black History Month, I hope you’ll do the same.

 

Anime and The Male Gaze

The Male Gaze is a term from Gaze theory that describes the tendency of works to assume a (straight) male viewpoint even when they do not have a specific narrative Point of View, and in particular the tendency of works to present female characters as subjects of implicitly male visual appreciation.

—TvTropes, Male Gaze

content warning: adult themes

Continue reading “Anime and The Male Gaze”