Fresher’s flu knocked me pretty hard in week 2-3, so I didn’t get anything much done on ethics, unfortunately. I’ll leave it by for now and focus on essays.
Since we read Love’s Executioner I don’t feel so bad about this being pure fabrication, even for Non-Fiction! The idea came into my head when I was doing the research for objectification and writing selves and others, in the previous posts. Again, pretty rough, and I need to add an ending.
My older brother has turned into a park bench. I see him everyday because Mammy takes me. I forget what his face used to be like unless I’m looking at a picture, but Mammy doesn’t like me to take them out anymore.
My older brother is so much bigger than me, an Everest with a heart and hair. He is too big to see all of him at once. There is collection of body parts. They loom forward singly when I need them. My older brother is a hand, warm and moist in the middle, and it can close over my whole fist leaving no gaps for the cold to come in. I like it when we cross the road together, because he says I am too big to do this other times.
“Handy-hold!” he says, pausing dramatically.
They keep trying to ask me about it. The people at the place Mammy takes me to. There I sit on a plastic seat and the people say that they aren’t teachers they are “Call me Kate” and “Call me Ivan” and I bump my feet against the floor until it’s time to go home. My brother has a really long name which I can never say properly, but I can feel it under my fingers when I visit him. The cold letters.
My older brother is a set of bony knees smoothed over with denim. When there’s people around at home and nowhere for me to sit then my brother is a seat for me. I feel the points of his kneecaps jutting against my thighs, juddering me as he laughs at what the older people are saying and Mammy tells him to sit still but he doesn’t.
I can still sit on him now, but it’s farther from home and doesn’t feel so much like a lap. There are lots of people around all the time now and nowhere at all for me to sit so I lie down under the table. People keep bringing scones, and sometimes a blob of strawberry jam will slide down onto the floor in front of me, clots of cream dying it a viscous pink. It makes me sick to look at it, and I run to the bathroom or to my bed to lie on my tummy, and Mammy never notices the way she used to.
My older brother is a back, a neck with scraggles of lose hair and dandruff. I ride on him and he takes me places. I don’t see where we’re going, but I hear it all around me. The whoosh of passing cars. Sometimes we go somewhere deadly like the shop and get chocolate, sometimes he just swooshes me around and tells me I’m getting too big for this nonsense and his back hurts and he pries apart my fingers until I slide off.
The people at home keep telling Mammy the place where my brother is now is better. But I don’t think it is, with nothing but other park benches for company. It’s wet and cold and there’s always rubbish on him. We have to brush it away to leave room for the flowers.
For a while I thought it was a better place because I’m not there annoying him, asking to play with his Gameboy and being too heavy on his back. I got scared to visit him, in case he didn’t want me there. “Call me Ivan” said that’s not right, that’s not how it works.
“Don’t you want to tell me where your brother really is?” he asks me. It sounds like the start of a joke every time, but when I look at him his eyes go all warm and he doesn’t smile.
So I started going to visit again, but I don’t sit on my brother any more just in case. I just pat his wooden arms and dry them with mine.
My older brother is long hard fingers, gripping on my shoulders, pulling me backwards so quickly I almost fall. The fingers come right up close to my face. My older brother is all pink, all loud voice.
“Be careful!” he tells me. I crumple.
“Don’t get upset,” he says. “You’re ok. You could have been strawberry-jammed by that car! What could you have been?”
“Strawberry-jammed,” I answer. I picture it, the pink splatter. The strawberry blobs.
Some notes on Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating”
I think the main thing which gives an essay its power isn’t the rhetorical aides so much as the point of it – it has to reveal something about the human condition, make you feel like you should be doing something better, essentially. The rhetoric does help though!
Father Forgets by W. Livingston Larned – barely a page long, but one of the most powerful essays I have ever read – full text is below.
I think, because it is written as a letter it feels more immediately palpable, and the remorse, directed at you the reader and assumed little boy, is searingly clear. The exclamations are used sparingly, but to enormous effect
A Story of a Fuck-Off Fund by Paulette Perhach – again a lot of 2nd person, – you know it’s hypothetical, but the certainty of the tone – that this is what happens to you – crawls in under your skin.
We talked a good deal about how to write convincing conversations, and about the general awkwardness surrounding our attempts to discuss serious issues.
Often serious conversations take place through an indirect method, such as in these videos (shown in class):
These, and also the question list handed out in class, made me think of an article I read in an old Reader’s Digest (a weird thing about my childhood is that I read all my grandmother’s back-issues of RD from 1973-2003: I was a lonely kid). The author writes about how being placed on voice-rest and having to communicate by notepad transformed the conversations she had with her family, and led her to develop The Ungame, a boardgame to stimulate the important conversations needed for full understanding of loved ones:
Another RD article (which I couldn’t find online) talked about how a daughter used to leave notes for her mother, explaining the reasons why she wanted permission for different things – “the power of the written word,” the mother termed it, as the calm explanation instead of a screaming match meant she nearly always gave in to her daughter. Sometimes communication is easier when it is indirect in this way – when a tool is used to cut through the emotion and leave the bare statements.
The Birds&Bees episode of This American life is great for its focus on tough conversations with young people. In Some Like it Not the host sits in on a college sexual consent workshop, to hear the kind of questions and anxieties attendees have about the issue.
About That Farm Upstate, then, focused on a children’s grief counselling centre, The Sharing Place.
On the other hand, conversation failures in all their awkwardness are the bedrock of comedy. King of the “excruciating conversation”sitcom is Coupling, a Friends-style sitcom from early 2000s (written by Steven Moffat):
I enormously enjoyed the Nina Conti video we watched in class, where the ventriloquist comedian literally puts words in her volunteers mouth:
Watching the unfortunate participant is fascinating: they go from embarrassed puppet to active participant in the skit. As their freedom of speech and identity is taken away from them they paradoxically seem to find some kind of liberation in the ordeal.
Dara O’Brian is incredible in his ability to engage with audience members for comedy, twisting their answers into whimsical improvised scenarios:
Bo Burnham, though he doesn’t engage with audience participants in the same way, has discussed how he tried to create space for “listening” on stage in his act, which is one of the main things he misses about straight theatre.
The result is something very different from traditional comedy sets, but certainly funny:
Our lives are determined by the arrival and actions of others. However, portraying another realistically and morally is a much more difficult task.
Martha C. Nussbaum’s Seven Ways to Treat a Person as a Thing
But how do you write an absolutely frank, clear image of a person without alienating the reader from your perspective?
How do you convince others of the existence of lives in your book?
I’m not sure I can provide any satisfactory answers to these questions, so I will let them marinate and move on.
Even the level of names can bring about this alienation of a person from their identity
From above video:
- My name is Mùge, but I go by Isabelle
- it just makes you feel literally unseen
- My name was the only part of me which represented this other part of my family
- There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of feelings of shame
- Sometimes people would avoid talking to me
- In 2nd grade I started using my middle name… it was my choice, but it also felt like I had a deep sense of loss that I couldn’t name or understand fully
Michelle Obama’s speech recently, where she refused to use Trump’s name, is indicative of the humanising power a name holds. By silencing his name, she silences any humanity he has and lets his actions rest alone.
You can see the power of names too when people draw attention to media’s silence around a subject which would otherwise have been overlooked.
The grossness of this week’s book (Love’s Executioner) aside, I actually find it intriguing when humans are treated as objects deliberately.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach discusses the pinnacle of this – medical science.
Also, this incredibly sordid (even for Buzzfeed) article with the winner of all subtitles:
No one knows much about Mary Lynch apart from the fact that her thighs are wrapped around three medical books in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Historical Medical Library.
Interestingly, I visited a Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn this summer, full of such human/object curiosities:
I also took a lot of pictures of park-bench commemorations in Central Park – it was interesting to see the ones where a quote or comment allowed the human memory of the person to shine through, and I sort of like the idea of someone being “turned into a park bench” when they die:
From class on Tuesday 04/10
- DNA as archive – leaving traces of oneself as a trail through the world
- Library of Babel – thousands of books written by algorithm
- Social Media – Caroline Calloway catalogues memory for instagram using narrative techniques
What’s your favorite adventure story? I bet you a hundred books (pun intended) that it begins in what your English professor would call The Ordinary World. Basically, that’s the hero’s hometown—a place so normative and repressing that high-voltage fun is down right unheard of. Harry Potter? Privet Drive. The Hunger Games? District Twelve. Lord of the Rings? Actually. Know what? I’m no longer sure I can make LOTR jokes without also making SWEEPING IGNORANT ERRORS. And our story? Our Ordinary World is Cambridge. The place where Newton discovered gravity, parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and a certain American blogger struggles daily to balance writing a book, living in wonder, and failing out of school one Instagram post at a time! Cambridge! Cambridge, I say! But seriously. That our story begins here is a big narrative deal. This is like if the Harry Potter series BEGAN at Hogwarts. Which, by the way, is the best fucking analogy I HAVE. EVER. MADE. *drops mike, Tebows, screams VICTORY Viking-Quest-style* Super sorry, analogy fans! It’s all downhill from here. For everyone else—the best friends who follow for pretty photos, cerebral humor, and my quirky knack for making sad stories upbeat—rejoice! Our story begins in an Ordinary World that is anything but. Meaning that from this point forward things will only get *even more* magical. That is, of course, until the meetings and the drugs and The Innermost Cave, and then things get abruptly worse. But I won’t spoil the specifics. Let’s start with a certain Thursday. In October. In extraordinary Cambridge. To Be Continued…
I know, Instagram. I can’t believe it either. So many rational adults had to be sedated in order to make that Snapchat caption true. I mean, how else do you think I got a diploma AND a book deal during my senior year of college? Sedated them all. Professors. Publishers. The world is your oyster when everyone around you is unconscious! Trust me. I went to Cambridge and I’m writing a book. Full-time. But this means that our already fast-paced schedule of reading, writing, dark-joking and party-girling is about to kick into an even fancier, more ludicrously international gear. We’ll be living in London! New York! Vienna! Sicily! Plus to and fro Cambridge and Oxford all year to fact check things for the book. Basically what I’m saying to you is this: Life will be exactly like it’s always been for us EXCEPT NOW I DON’T HAVE HOMEWORK AND EXAMS TO WORRY ABOUT EVERY GODDAMN WAKING HOUR OF THE DAY. Not that I ever did my homework. Or slept. But hat just made the worrying more non-stop and CAPSLOCK STRESSFUL. Call me crazy, guys, but over the past three years I got the feeling like my professors ~didn’t~ think I came to Cambridge to write Instagram captions as a job! Those curious, gorgeous fools! Do I miss them? Yes. Do they miss me? Absolutely not. Will they be forever hesitant to admit another bubbly, terrier-like American girl to the University of Cambridge? Let’s all apply this fall and find out. In the meantime, I’ll be on Snapchat, writing Instagram captions. No seriously. I know that might sound like a millennial oxymoron, but my newest snaps are all sneak peeks of the upcoming content I’m working for you guys here on Instagram! And I know this might come as a shock to, well, everyone, but I update my snapchat MULTIPLE TIMES PER DAY. It’s remarkable. It’s true! Just see for yourself. My dark jokes are many and I use the puppy filter not at all. Sedation tutorial coming soon. Snapchat username: adventuregrams 📘🌺👟
- Quotes collected on different cities
- Family archives, family tree
- How authors influence each other
On the chapter I was told to focus on – Fat Lady.
- He’s very good at transitioning from general discussion, to specific meetings, to personal anecdotes, to explanations of psychotherapeutic process – that’s the main strength.
- He likes to characterise his patients with physical description, brings them to life sort of but also dehumanises them? If that makes any sense?
- I get that he was building up to a twist and his own learning experience, but I disliked the excessive fat shaming – often the little jokes were of the “we all feel this way but don’t say it tone” which sort of lost me as an audience.