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.

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.

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”

Happily Ever After

“You think I’m not serious?”

“That’s what’s scaring me. We’re too old for fairy tales.”

–Terry McMillan, I Almost Forgot About You

We have forgotten how to live fairy tales. Not the ones that are only light and sunshine, but the dark, gritty fairy tales. We have decided that we are too old for that nonsense. But I don’t think it’s nonsense at all.

Sure, not everybody gets their happily ever after. Yet it seems to me that most people do. It might not be the one we envision as children, but that doesn’t stop people from creating happiness in their lives. Besides, if we think about the history of those fairy tales, we would do well to remember that the heroes and heroines find themselves in light-less times long before they ever reach their happy endings. Rapunzel? Locked up in a tower for the entirety of her life, only to watch her savior be thrown into thorns and blinded. Sleeping Beauty (or rather, Aurora)? She’s actually denied access to a part of the world–spinning wheels and anything similar–in an attempt to shelter her from her destiny. And then her destiny becomes to fall into a deep sleep. Snow White? Her stepmother actually tried to kill her, and she’s forced into the woods to fend for herself as a result. Cinderella? Enslaved by the woman entrusted with her care.

Fairy tales are dark things, full of suffering. Many stories are. What makes fairy tales unique, in part, is that they never lose hope. No matter how dark the story gets, the reader can be assured that things will end with hope and joy. It might not be the happiness the characters hoped for, but it is a thing of beauty nevertheless.

So, as McMillan eventually assures us, we’re never too old for fairy tales.

Love for its Own Sake

“Loving someone after years is not reductive, retrograde, antifeminist or weak.”

–Louise Brealey (AKA Molly Hooper)

BBC’s Sherlock recently screened another season and it had a lot in it.  It had questions about power and justice, how to deal with loss, and several different kinds of love.

In this version of the story of Sherlock Holmes, detective, he has a unlikely friend.  This friend is Molly Hooper.  She is a pathologist who works in the morgue in London.  Over the past 4 seasons, she has gone from a mousy doctor who meekly supplied Sherlock with the body parts necessary for his various experiments to standing up to Sherlock and making him apologize for a really awful series of remarks to saving his life by faking his death.  Throughout the seasons Molly is steadfast and loving towards Sherlock, holding in her seemingly unrequited romantic love for Sherlock.  In the most recent season Sherlock and her were entangled in his psychopathic sister’s game of pushing all of Sherlock’s buttons and forcing him into moral dilemmas.  One of the tests was Sherlock calling Molly and getting her to say three simple words—I love you—within a set time limit. Sherlock also gets a warning that a bomb will go off if he fails.  Molly refuses to say those words until he does. The reason she refuses is because it’s true; Molly does love Sherlock after all these years. And this is where the quote from the beginning comes in.  Louise Brealey, who plays Molly, tweeted after the episode, defending her character’s steadfast love for Sherlock despite any return on that love.

Unrequited love is a heartbreaking thing, especially over a long period of time, but it is a beautiful self-sacrificial thing. Molly has loved Sherlock for years, and that in no way diminishes her character.

The Idea of a Person

“I don’t know why, but I always thought she would look different. Older…. But there she is, and I am watching her through the Plexiglas, and she looks like Margo Roth Spiegelman, this girl I have know since I was two – this girl who was an idea that I loved. And it is only now… that I realize that the idea is not only wrong but dangerous. What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person.” – John Green, Paper Towns

Paper Towns is not your average love story. And as much as I love Romanticism as a genre, John Green’s book points out the trouble and heartbreak that romanticizing a person will cause.

Quentin had built up an idea of what Margo was like mainly by watching her from afar. It should not be a surprise, then, to find out that his idea of her is not entirely true to life. Whatever he thinks she is – hero, goddess, sprite – is fictional.

The theme of Paper Towns is stripping away fiction to find reality. This is Margo’s quest. Quentin’s quest is to find Margo. But he does not realize that the harder he chases after her the more of his fictitious idea he will lose. He finds Margo, but not the Margo he was looking for. Rather than the paper girl he created, he discovers a flesh and blood person, as well as all the baggage that entails.

While romanticized stories that make heroes out of humans and delete all the baser details are all well and good, it will only cause pain and suffering to romanticize real people. No one is a superhero, and no one is meant to be. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can begin to love the people around us for who they truly are.