I Just Want to be Maurice Sendak

I have been given an unconventional project this week that is causing me more than a little heartburn. For anyone who is in my Digital Composition class, you might be thinking that I am concerned about our plagiarism assignment. Actually, it is something a bit more intimidating…my husband has asked me to write him a children’s book.

“So what’s the big deal?” you may ask.

Well in no particular order, here is a list of issues:

1) This book is supposed to be finished by my husband’s birthday…which gives me exactly13 days to write and edit it. Talk about pressure!

2) My husband intends to publish it. He is an artist and has been trying to get me to write a children’s book for him to illustrate for years. I think he fancies us as some sort of Stan and Jan Berenstain, which might be a bit of a stretch.

3) It has been my dream to write a children’s book since I was a child (well either that or to write for Reader’s Digest). Now I am aware that when most people think of children’s literature, things like Go Dog Go come to mind. This is of course a great beginner book, but not exactly the most imaginative writing. If I were just setting out to write another Go Dog Go, my task would be simple. But of course, I want to write a truly timeless piece of children’s literature. Something a little more like Chicken Soup With Rice or Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

And last, but not least:

4) I am the worst kind of perfectionist. It could take me a whole month to write a poem, let alone a simple children’s book. In some ways this blog has been incredibly therapeutic and helped me work through my perfectionistic tendencies – but writing for any public audience is revealing and a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you are a horrible swimmer (which I am).

Despite all of these reasons, I am grateful that I have such a wonderful and supportive husband. He challenges me to step outside of who I think I am capable of being every time I turn around and I want to write this book for him. Actually, I want to write this book for me more than I even want to write it for him.

So now, how do I go about accomplishing this incredible task? Well, I am thinking of approaching it in poem form because it somehow seems less daunting for a first book (though of course it’s late and I could quite possibly be sleep deprived). I’m honestly not sure where I am going with it yet, but I would love any and all suggestions anyone may have. If I manage to get it done sometime in the next millennium I will try to post an excerpt or two, and maybe a picture to go along with it.

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Controlled Chaos – An Exercise in Detournement

We had a group project for our Writing For Contemporary Media Class that required us to detourn (or change the meaning of something in simple terms). Thomas Wolfe and I chose to add words to the poem “What The Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver (his words are in bold). This is the chaos we created:

He said it doesn’t look good

♬♬Besides functionality, code also possesses literary value.

he said it looks bad in fact real bad

map those territories, define terminologies, and create contexts

he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before

What we’re experiencing for the first time is the ability of language to alter all media,

I quit counting them

Materiality- fluidity, plasticity, ductility, malleability—-

I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know

about any more being there than that

How can we regard something that might in another configuration be extremely valuable?

he said are you a religious man do you kneel down

in forest groves and let yourself ask for help

a word processing document is an example of a microclimate where the variables are extremely limited and controlled and yet the true possibilities are endless.

when you come to a waterfall

mist blowing against your face and arms

do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments

èI said not yet but I intend to start today

he said I’m real sorry he said

I wish I had some other kind of news to give you

There’s nothing stable about it: even in their most abstracted form, letters are embedded with semantic, semiotic, historical, cultural, and associative meanings.

I said Amen and he said something else

I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do

and not wanting him to have to repeat it

and me to have to fully digest it

I just looked at him

Physical geography. Overlay it with psychogeography—mapping the psychic and emotional flows of a city instead of its rational street grids—-DRIVE THE BUS!

for a minute and he looked back it was then

I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me

something no one else on earth had ever given me

the city is an ecology, a series of networks, each replete with its own potential for meaningful exchanges and encounters. NO RELATION TO ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES. OBJECTIVE PASSIONAL TERRAIN/LOGIC OF SOCIAL MORPHOLOGY

½ I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

What are your sources? Oh we have plenty of sources. You can ask and we can tell. Just follow the links. Point and click your way to the beginning. It is the point that the beginning is not so sure and steady at hand. Like choppy water on this grey and dusty Oregon/Idaho day. Yeah, the location is a multitude. Two locations. Two locations with two beginnings and not an end in sight. Just be glad your fair (fare) is paid and bought for. Come on now, get loose, get ready and read. Cut and paste your way. Concrete poetry.

Do you remember floating down the 405 awash in that California sun? No? yes? The freaks along the boardwalk sailing past feet up off the ground eyes twinges and groggy and full of redo. Come on now.

Cite your damn sources. Please. Give credit where credit is do (due). Do your own work. Use the gifts and make sure they remain intact. Here, at ‘intact’ is the point of contention. What are you borrowing and what are you taking and what are you taking out on loan? Borrowing and Loaning. What is the difference? Difference. “the transparency of the clearing means a maintenance of the invader’s specific right over a territory in which he claims to settle, of his power to penetrate. What this week is circling around can be identified as a phenomenon of retention. What are you retaining and what have you borrowed that make this retention possible? The bordering of our two states now is like so much imagined refuse.

I take the words from the page and rearrange them to fit what burns inside. Your pulse quickens, the sweat breaks upon the back of your neck, you are lost amongst the words seeking direction. I have none to give. Turn left.

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Dulce Et Decorum Est, or is it?

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Wilfred Owen was a soldier during WWI that died in the front lines at age 25. His haunting poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is considered to be the plea of a dead soldier. The question remains, what was Owen pleading for? The poem begins:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Owen introduces the metaphors “like beggars” and “like hags” in order to illustrate the poor conditions he and his fellow soldiers are living through. They are exhausted and crippled. They are sick, and deaf from the constant gunshots. They have nothing more to look forward to than “distant rest” – this could be simply their camp for the night, but i think it eludes to the endless rest that death brings. These men are the walking dead. Owen wants his audience to feel the power of their story, and to realize that war is not fun.

In the next stanza, Owen reflects on a gas attack that he lived through. Gas was just another industrialized way to rack up the death toll, it wasn’t just about hand-to-hand combat anymore. Owen fumbled and fitted his helmet in time, but another soldier was not quite so lucky:

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Owen watches this man die a horrible toxic death, safe behind the green lenses of his own gas mask. He then has survivors guilt and this man haunts his dreams. He dies over and over while Owen remains helpless, listening to the sounds of him guttering – a word choice that invokes the image of the sucking sound created when water flows down the gutter. Owen uses the word drowning twice in order to reiterate the fact that this man essentially drown in his own fluids. This stanza made me feel physically ill, and was meant to show that war is not pretty.

The very last stanza is no longer about Owen’s experiences. It is a direct challenge aimed at Jessie Pope, a popular editor of patriotic poetry at the time (the poem was originally dedicated to her, so she is the audience):

If in smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

I include the whole stanza because the beginning informs the end. Owen is very graphically offering his experiences up on a platter to Pope (“my friend”). He tells her that if she was in his shoes or had any real idea of the horrors of war, she wouldn’t so happily inspire children to enlist. He ends with a quote from an ode by Horace that translates to “it is sweet and right to die for your country.” Apparently this quote was popular during WWI, and was used to convince men that it was their duty to go to war. Owen bitterly refers to it as “the old lie.” He wants Pope to re-think her position, and to stop pushing military service on young men who want to be remembered for doing something important. Owen has seen war and feels that it is not heroic or pretty or fun. He is the ultimate authority since he lost his life in one of the most grisly wars in history.

I can’t help but wonder if this poem changed Pope’s mind? It certainly would have changed mine. I think that this poem is even more powerful when read aloud, so I will leave you with this:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qts3K3KznN4

And also a favorite quote of mine:

“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” -John F. Kennedy

Nature Calling

This week in my literature class we have been reading poetry, and I have been focusing particularly on William Wordsworth. His poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” has had a profound effect on me this week. For anyone who has never read this poem, you can read it here.

The heart of the poem is that nature is good for the soul. I discovered this meaning as I was sitting on the couch staring at a glowing IPad screen trying to write a blog post about it. Talk about irony.

It occurred to me that I haven’t spent much time outside in the last few weeks. Instead I have been holed up waiting for winter to end and staring at a glowing screen while working on school work. I am realizing what a toll this has taken on my soul. I have been cranky and tired and frankly, bored. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving school, but sometimes I feel like I am tied to my IPad in a way that is a little unhealthy – especially last week during midterms.

I finally decided that I didn’t care if it was cold, I was still going to bundle up the kids and go run around in the backyard. Of course, the fresh air and exercise was just as good for them as it was for me. I felt energized the entire day and decided that even if it’s pouring rain, I am still going to at least go sit on my back porch once every day. I know it’s silly that it took a poem by a long dead poet to shake me out of my funk, but it did. So do yourself a favor, stop reading this blog post and go outside! It will do you a world of good.

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I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

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I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.

William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is the speaker (presumably Wordsworth) talking about the beauty and innocence of nature, and about how good it is for the soul (even in remembrance). Wordsworth was considered to be one of the fathers of Romantic poetry, and he proves his prowess with this poem. Wordsworth speaks of himself almost like he is floating above or apart from the world. He is an inanimate object; an observer, and nature is almost like a person. Vales and Hills and Daffodils are set apart with capitalization as if they were a proper noun – a person’s name. The Daffodils specifically are like people in that they are a crowd and they dance. Daffodils tend to symbolize new beginnings, which makes me think that Wordsworth sees nature as the cure for what ails society. If allowed, nature can bring about a re-birth for a lost generation (the audience I see for this poem). He speaks of how even reflecting on nature (the Daffodils) makes his heart soar. In fact, the whole last stanza leads me to believe that Wordsworth has only discovered it’s value in retrospect.

The poem was written in iambic tetrameter, which lends an almost march-like quality to it. Because of this, the lyrical nature of the words almost seem in contrast to the flow. I wonder if Wordsworth did this in order to further show contrast between the beauty of nature and the military mechanics of the industrial revolution? His choice of the word host in the first stanza seems to corroborate this, as host can refer to a military group or formation. The pattern of the end rhymes also add interest to the poem with their ABABCC structure. I believe that the last two lines of each stanza are meant to tie the message together in a less militaristic style. If read together, they simply say:

Along the Lake, beneath the trees, (5)
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze (6)
I gaz’d–and gaz’d–but little thought (11)
What wealth the shew to me had brought: (12)
And then my heart with pleasure fills, (17)
And dances with the Daffodils. (18)

It sounds less like a march, and more like the lyrics to a song.

As with any literature, poems leave the burden of interpretation to the reader. There is no one answer that satisfies everyone. The Romantic Poets were speaking to a generation using words they could understand. They took these simple words and wrote poems that inspired societal change. Like his contemporaries; John Keats and Lord Byron, Wordsworth displayed a respect for nature and a longing for a simpler time. Did you find this to be the strongest connection between the three poets as well?

I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself For Sympathy

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Who I am is just the habit of what I always was, and who I will be is the result. This comes clear to me at the wrong time. I am standing in a line, almost rehabilitated.

Louise Erdrich’s short story I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy begins this way, and then jumps directly in and out of a flashback to explain how the narrator got to where he is.

It all starts out fairly harmless, he is trying to find a gift for his girlfriend, Dawn, at the local Walgreens and he picks out a purple toucan. Then he starts to daydream and wish that he had acquired it in some more romantic way. He has the money to pay for it, but instead he walks out the door with it simply to, “…see if shit happens, if do-do occurs.” Pg. 149, And occur it does. He is chased by the manager and a policewoman and several other people, until, “…my stroke of luck, good or bad is no telling, occurs.” Pg. 150

Throughout the next scene, the narrator steals a car that is left idling momentarily at the depot and takes off with it, even with a woman screaming and clinging to the car and people running after him. He doesn’t realize until later when it starts to cry that everyone was running and screaming, “b…b…baby”. Pg. 151

This is the point where his luck takes a turn for the worse. He gets chased by a cop, (though he gets away) only to get stuck in a snowdrift. Then he leaves the baby in the car and takes off on foot, heading south.

The first time I read this story, the mother in me was furious. I was with him right until the point where he realized he had kidnapped a baby and didn’t take it back. This plays upon every mothers’ worst fear. I decided that this was probably not the reaction that the author had intended, so I shut off my blinders and read it again.

Upon second reading, it becomes obvious to me that the narrator is supposed to be the knight of the story. He has this romantic idea of a relationship that is clearly long since over, but he sets out on a quest to get her back by bringing her a Christmas present (even though she lives in another town with another man). In chivalric literature, the knight goes on a quest and everything that happens to him and that stands in his way is pre-destined by the fates. This is clearly how the narrator feels about what happens to him – like he has no control over what happened. Why do you think he seems so unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions?

The narrator feels detached from the humanity of the situation, specifically with regards to this small baby who he describes as, “so small that it is not a child yet.” I interpreted this baby as a symbol of innocence. The narrator has lost his innocence and has no family to speak of, so why should he care about this small child that has suddenly been thrust into his care? He sees his girlfriend, Dawn(though probably his ex) as the only person who can save him. Did anyone else interpret her name as a symbol of sunrise, or a new day – a new start?

As the story jumps back and forth between the past and the present you realize that he is in jail, though he is about to be set free. The last thing he reflects on is the baby living, “They asked me in court why I didn’t take it along with me, bundled in my jacket, and I say, well it lived, didn’t it? Proving I did right. But I know better sometimes, now that I’ve spent time alone here in Mandan…”. Pg. 154 After a little research, I discovered that Mandan is a tribe of Indians, which makes me wonder if he was imprisoned on a reservation (they have their own courts and jails). He also says, “I know I’ll always be inside him, cold and black, about the size of a coin, maybe, something he touches against and skids. And he’ll say, what is this, and the thing is he won’t know it is a piece of thin ice I have put there, the same as I have in me”.

I interpreted this last statement as the narrator grasping for solidarity with some human anywhere, even if it is negative. He clearly felt a little something for the baby, because he left him with blankets and a toy poised above his head. He is somehow so hardened that he believes that he had no control over this, or any situation. Does anyone else get the feeling from the opening line of the story that this will not be the last time he sees the inside of a jail cell? Either way, the story offers little hope.