Tag Archives: thoughts

No one’s ever accused me of being “sweet” before

21 Aug

… so I guess this proves that there really is a first time for everything.  Imagine that.

Just as I was resigning myself to neglecting my little second-tier science fiction review blog as I (in contravention of the traditional American mythology) head East to find my fortune (because I’m still pretending that there’s fame and fortune involved in being a history grad student, if only for my parents’ sake), I find that a fellow blogger with the quite distinguished handle of Lord David Professor has nominated me for an award.

Because nothing says “meritorious” like long, syntactically-impenetrable sentences with lots of parenthetical digressions and hyphenated adjectives (see what I did there? (see what I did there?)).

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how this Internet award nomination chain thing works.  But from what I can gather from my gracious nominator’s own blog post, I have to answer some questions and make nominations of my own.

So, without further ado, proof that I am truly not worthy of

The Super Sweet Blogging Award

1. Cookies or Cake?

If my parents are to be believed, I had about half a dozen pacifiers when I was a toddler.  I slept with them in my crib.  One was my clear favorite–it had a twin, a “bippy” (as I called it) with an exact twin, same color, same non-Newtonian viscous rubber composition.  But they tasted different, and I could tell with one lick which was the preciousssss and which was a counterfeit.  One night my favorite bippy fell out of the crib and rolled under my sister’s dresser.  My mother says I cried and cried, and she tore the room apart to find it.  We were re-uinted, but in the interim I found I had a taste for my thumb.  I bit my nails to this day.

2. Chocolate or Vanilla?

All that thumb-sucking did something to my tooth growth patterns; when those glowing white baby teeth fell out, my mother saw with dismay that my “grown-up teeth” were a grotesquerie of fangs and overbite and overlapping ridges of enamel.  We have no pictures from that time.  I got braces young–age 10, fifth grade.  The orthodontist gave me headgear to wear at night.  I tried, I tried to wear it, but how can I be blamed for what happened in the middle of the night?  When I woke every morning, I found my headgear had been thrown across the room, to land under my sister’s dresser.  She still wears her retainer.

3. What is your favorite sweet treat?

They sent me to a special dentist once, an expert in root canals.  He was not our usual dentist, the sinister man who play golf with my father sometimes, when Jerry and Mike were unavailable.  He was, they said, the best.  I still had my braces.  These were the days of full metal bands around the molars, the days when fillings were metallic, when biting down on foil sent electric shocks down to the tips of your nail-bitten fingers.  The braces, they said, were moving my teeth (dramatic changes took drastic measures), and somehow that had created an abscess at the root.  Well that was bad, and the expert was supposed to fix it.  He told me: “Wave your left hand in the air if you feel any pain.”  Then he numbed me.  He touched my chin, and my cheek, and even my ear–I couldn’t feel anything, not even the pressure.  But when I began to drill he touched a nerve too, and I felt that.  My left arm jerked into the air, but he didn’t stop.  I called out incoherently, his hands in my mouth.  I bit his latexed hands.  “I felt that!” I said.  He looked at me strangely.  “No you didn’t,” he said.

4. When do you crave sweet things the most?

I drink my water room temperature, my hot chocolate lukewarm.  I’m told that in a root canal the dentist removes the nerve entirely, but if that’s true then I have a phantom nerve, and sometimes it twinges, and 12 years later I’m afraid to tell anyone.  I have insurance.  I don’t care.

5. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

Please, please … please don’t make me think about this anymore.  The pain– THE PAIN!

Thanks for the nomination, Lord David Professor!  I totes should win.

Anyway, in the grand tradition of chain mail and FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD subject lines, here are my nominations:

2. She’s reviews indie SF at a crazy rate, and does it more efficiently and more diligently than I ever did, and, most importantly, may or may not have a unibrow.  She’s Frida Fantastic of Adarna SF!

1. He’s a prolific author, a fellow Lostie, and sings non-religious songs about Christmas.  He also may or may not have a clone who also writes sci-fi and let me be a beta reader for a forthcoming book.  It’s … B.C. Young of The Time Capsule (and, on this blog, of Miscorrection fame)!

(I’m letting them know on their respective blogs right. this. second.)

To finish up, I’m pretty definitely completely sure that I did this totes wrong, but guess what?  It was fun!  Wow, all this sweet talk made me really hungry for some spaghetti.  Off to cook — everyone else can eat cake.

200,000 Years of Mommy Madness

11 May

Motherhood!  You’d think we humans would have it figured out after 200,000 years as a species.  Apparently not.  While my mother certainly raised a perfect human specimen, thank you very much, TIME magazine’s latest cover (and the bemused, baffled, bewildered responses to it) indicates that questions about what it means to be a “good mom” are still feeding our cultural anxieties.

(Or should I say, they’re still breastfeeding our cultural anxieties?  But maybe that’s a bit much.)

The point is that TIME’s lead story on “attachment parenting,” Dr. Bill Sears, and his devotees liked the pictured mother and son in “Are You Mom Enough?” has already stirred up  controversy and brought moms and motherhood back into public discourse–if, indeed, these topics ever really left us.

In the United States today, the majority of women work.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

In 2010, there were 123 million women in the civilian noninstitutional population, and of this number 72 million, or 58.6 percent, were in the labor force—that is, classified as either employed or unemployed.

Women’s labor force participation is significantly higher today than it was in the 1970s. Women’s labor force participation rate peaked at 60.0 percent in 1999, following several decades in which women increasingly participated in the labor market.

An even greater percentage of American mothers is working also.  Again from the BLS:

The labor force participation rate–the percent of the population working or looking for work–for all mothers with children under 18  was 70.6 percent in 2011.

Cool?  I tend to think so.  My mom worked full-time from the time I was seven or thereabouts (who can remember anything before the millennium anyway?  Didn’t Y2K wipe out all those records?), and I don’t think my sisters and I can complain about much from our childhoods.  Except maybe that our mother did indeed dress a bit like the working women in this old video that we still own on VHS out among the garage spiders somewhere (though I will add that you would never see her wearing loafers with a suit.  It was heels or bust).

And surprisingly for one of my rambling posts, this video is more than a trip down memory lane–watching it now, I wonder why it is that there isn’t a corresponding video called “My Daddy Comes Back” or something.  Is it really so much scarier for children when mommy goes to work than when dad does?  Or is it us, the grown-up video-makers and video-buyers and song-writers and blog-ramblers, that continue to perpetuate that baby’s going to cry only or especially when mom heads off to the office for the day?

Whatever came first, the chicken or the ovum, it certainly seems that working mothers are taking on the burden of this cultural anxiety.  As I understand it, “attachment parenting,” the subject of TIME’s lead story, is a method of child-rearing with the aim of creating a secure bond (or attachment) between parent and child.  Because of the emphasis breastfeeding as one method of fostering that bond, AP proponents especially stress the relationship between mother and child.  And “stress” may be exactly the right word.

Reading about AP theory, I followed a hyperlink trail to Judith Warner’s book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.  In the book, Warner discusses the toll and burden that cultural expectations of mothers place on working and non-working moms alike:

Many women of the post-Baby Boom generation simply weren’t prepared to contemplate these kinds of choices.  They didn’t realize just how bad the incompatibility would be between the total freedom of their youth and the culture of total motherhood they’d encounter once they had children.

So while more women are working and more mothers are working women, the pressures that puts on modern women go largely unexplored.  As Warner says, parenthetically:

Happiness has never ranked high as a feminist political goal.

I’m hardly qualified to expound on my own theories of parenting (even if I had some, which I don’t), but as a woman who wants a career and may want children some day, I just want to ask: Shouldn’t it be?

The seeming impossibility of a woman “having it all” is a running joke on tv shows like 30 Rock (with Tina Fey’s career-oriented yet kind of baby-obsessed Liz Lemon).  Just last month the April 19 episode was titled “Murphy Brown Lied to Us.”

I guess I can’t be too surprised.  If the Venus of Willendorf is any indication, even people of the Upper Paleolithic had their own ideas about the feminine ideal.  And I can’t imagine it was any easier for women then.

* * *

In Defense of Well-Read Internet Trolls*

10 May

I learned something yesterday: If you’re going to write a blog about as contentious and controversial a topic as the characterization of classic characters in American fiction (and do it with alliteration), you’ve really got to grow a thick skin.  Everyone has the right to disagree.  And that is something I will defend unto my last keystroke.  I, Isabela Morales, the Scattering’s sole author, do so swear.

See what I did there?  I used my name.  I did that because I personally believe that if I’m ashamed to put my John Hancock to something I publish, then it isn’t really worth publishing.  But hey, we can’t expect everyone to follow that rule.

Come now, does this look like the face of a “brutish faux intellectual” to you?

Anonymity is a valuable and important part of our online experience.  Why then do we, as a culture, tend to despise, denigrate, deride, and disdain people who post more-than-moderately critical comments without revealing their names?  I am here to say that I believe every would-be Internet troll has the right to write unnecessarily aggressive things about academic blog posts without inspiring offense on the part of the author.  Which is why I want to post this not-at-all-spiteful public letter of apology for forcing my objectionable prose on last night’s anonymous commenter.  You see–

In spring 2009 I was taking a course on American humor and satire at my now-alma mater the University of Alabama.  Every week, our professor assigned us brief writing assignments—analyzing either a chapter or character from the book we were reading as a class.  The essays from those classes that I’ve posted on the Scattering have consistently been some of my most popular for years now (maybe because they’re possibly the only useful things I’ve published here), and if anyone can explain why my paper on Mark Twain and religious satire has been translated into Spanish more than it’s been read in English, that would be kind of cool to know.

In any case—the last book we discussed that semester was Catch-22, the bleakly funny (anti-)war novel by Joseph Heller.  The short essay I posted from class was my comparison of leading man Yossarian and his glum number two, Dunbar.  I flatter myself that I provided a few good pieces of evidence to support my claim that Dunbar is Yossarian’s foil; and of course, like a good little college student, I used in-line parenthetical citations for all my quotes (this was before the history department converted me to CMOS).

This all seems like a very long time ago to me, but how easily we forget that the Internet is eternal: once on Google, always on Google.  And it would seem that someone found my little essay today and didn’t find it useful at all.  In fact, he/she seems kind of pissed off that it exists.  I hope, with this letter, written as a public post for completely non-self-indulgent reasons, I can assuage some of Anonymous’s worries.

Ahem.

Dear Anonymous,

I just wanted to let you know how very appreciative I am that you took the time to peruse my “ancient” blog posts until you found one worthy, or perhaps unworthy, as you would have it, of comment—and this especially because reading my character analysis of Dunbar in Catch-22 so clearly caused you great mental agitation and psychic pain.

As an avid reader myself, how acutely do I know the distress that comes when one is thrown into collision with unpalatable prose!  Please know that I extend to you my greatest admiration and, indeed, perhaps even awe, for setting yourself at the vanguard of the Internet’s blog writing style soldiery!  I don’t think that anyone who read the remarks you left on my post of 17 March 2009 could possibly imagine you as anything other but a white knight of wordpress—charging down the RSS feeds of book reviewers with the same courage and conviction that the chevaliers of old (dare I say, of olde?) charged down the jousting lists.

But because I fear that the weight of public opinion might come down against someone who hands down breathtaking accusations and criticism under the name “Anonymous,” I have decided to publish your comments more broadly—for the sake of showing every one of my readers just how much I care what they think about my writing style.

Despite this article being ancient, the following bothers me and so i’ll comment here. I hope you have relaxed your prose by now, but I’m not going to put myself out verifying.

“second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book” – this is annoying. Stop trying to sound pretentious when you simply mean “the second character introduced in the book.”

It doesn’t work and is appalling. Had several complaints leading up to this point, but after this sentence I stopped reading.

That being said, it’s your prerogative to write as you will. You simply come off brutish in your faux intellectualism.

Cheers

Me being pretentious in front of a picture of UA’s founding librarian, my role model in all things, including 19th-century prose.

Anonymous, I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to put yourself out verifying whether or not I have relaxed my prose by reading any more recent posts, considering how dreadfully my writing style irks you.  In fact, I must now regretfully inform you that my prose, if anything, has only grown more contrived, affected, and overblown in the last two years.  And now that I will be entering a doctoral program in history next fall, I can only sigh and resign myself to the fact that I will doubtless be swept away by the currents of stilted academic prose by the time I’m through.

Alas!  Alack!  I should probably leave it at that, to spare you any more agony, but there’s just one thing–

I wonder how you found this post to begin with?  Were you searching for essays about Catch-22 online?  Because if that’s the case, I would trouble you just one more time to ask whether the actual substance of the essay had any bearing on your research.  I hate to think that my grandiloquent diction is getting in the way of my ideas.

Oh, and if I can keep your attention for another moment (and I only make this extended reply because your browser history certainly does not include the search “cliffnotes catch 22”), I’d like to say something about that particular line that you quoted:

Educated people like you and me have probably come across the literary technique of “parallelism” before—you know, constructing your writing in such a way that the grammar of one phrase, say, echoes an earlier sentence.  That’s what I was going for what I started my sentence with “Second only to Yossarian in alleged insanity, Dunbar…” and ended it with “… is also second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book.”

Clearly, I failed in that.  Oh well, we all try these things when we’re young, don’t we?

And last of all—hopefully I haven’t taken up too much more of your time or left the taste of poor diction in your mouth, giving you that fuzzy feeling on your tongue that comes when you go to sleep without brushing—I’d like to say a few words about your word choice.

You are indeed a master wit!  I don’t think I’d ever be clever enough to call a complete stranger “pretentious” while myself using terms like brutish and faux intellectualism.  I can only surmise that you wanted to use satire to comment on an analysis of satire.

Which is why I love you, Anonymous.  And how I do love you for this.

Cheers! —IM

* If you can make it through my stilted prose and pretensions to some modicum of literacy, this, Dear Anonymous, is what we faux intellectuals like to call “satire.”  Or perhaps it’s just what my mom likes to call “passive aggressive.”  Why don’t you let me know.

Victorian Life Advice, Part 1: “Keep Your Eye on the Main Chance”

7 May

Unless I’ve grown up completely out of the cultural loop (and that’s a distinct possibility), most young people don’t spend their free time reading etiquette handbooks anymore.  I graduated from college Saturday, and I didn’t get a single volume titled “The Ladies’ Guide to Politeness” (a major disappointment, needless to say).

“I get my post-graduation guidance from the cast of Mad Men!”

True, self-help books are everywhere.  When Kate the Lostie graduated from high school, she got a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” from our grandparents, and apparently corporate culture is such that my very successful mother gets leadership handbooks and inspiration business stories from the higher-ups on what seems like a daily basis (books with titles like “Our Iceberg is Melting” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “Whale Done!”, books that seem to have taken Aesop’s Fables to a whole new level of strangeness, books that I take every opportunity to make fun of).

But the difference is that these are all books geared toward people who want to network, make money (and friends to influence), succeed in business (without really trying, I imagine), or find their life’s passion (best of luck to you with that).  They aren’t really books on how–as an 1875 etiquette manual promises–to learn “a new set of forms or ceremonies to be observed if you wish to glide down the current of polite life smoothly and pleasantly.”  Surely, we don’t make such a big deal of etiquette in this grand and glorious 21st century, do we?

Do we?

Since my last post on Victorian etiquette seemed fairly popular (and I am shamelessly angling for an audience), I decided to look again at the manner and morals of the late 19th century.  And as it turns out, they’re not very different from the rules we still follow today.

“You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

1. Choose Your Friends Wisely

The 1875 “Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette” by Cecil B. Hartley (obviously the name of a true gentleman) is the sort of thing a young man with a brand new Bachelor of Arts in XYZ might get for a graduation gift.  And it starts its gents-in-training with some basic advice:

“The young man who makes his first entrance into the world of society, should know how to choose his friends, and next how to conduct himself towards them.”

Why, doesn’t that sound like just the sort of thing snobby Victorian New Englanders would say!  The right kind of people indeed!  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling people “mudbloods” and looking down our noses at anyone without an Ivy League pedrigree.  The outrage!

Yeah, yeah.  Let’s get down off our high horses for a moment and recall that this is exactly the advice that most moms give their teenagers at some point or another (ever been told your friends were having a “bad influence”? or gotten the “You are who your friends are” lecture?  I haven’t, obviously, but I know some folks).  And it doesn’t always have to do with any sticky class or racial prejudices–getting ahead is the sort of thing that ‘Murricans worry about, like, all the time.

Royall Tyler: Making fun of the British and rocking Elvis Presley hair since 1787.

There’s this great 18th-century play called The Contrast, written by a man with the very un-American name of Royall Tyler, whose comedy of errors was a still-pretty-funny send-up of Americans trying to act like fashionable European dandies.  Maybe inadvertently, but probably not, Tyler pokes fun at that most American of virtues: making money.  Hey, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that–I’ve been tweeting disparaging things about OWS-ers for months.  But you have to admit, Royall Tyler has it exactly write when our heroine’s father spouts his favorite line half a dozen times throughout the first act:

“No! no! no! child; it is money makes the mare go; keep your eye upon the main chance, Mary.”

Yes, we have a deeply-entrenched national faith that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps with hard work and a never-day-die attitude, but hey–it doesn’t hurt to know the right people.

Today, we call that “networking.”

***

Join me next time for 19th century advice on how to engage in gentlemanly conversation.  I promise to let you know exactly when and where it’s appropriate to use the phrase “Hail, fellow, well met!” (because there are totally rules about that).

WWJAT: What Would Jane Austen Think?

4 May

I was intrigued when Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame announced last month that he was writing/producing a youtube series based on that most popular of all public domain novels: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

It’s an interesting idea — setting the story in the modern day, changing some names around (from Mr. Bingley to Bing Lee the med student), and making Elizabeth Bennett a communications student vlogging about her life (and, of course, the marriage schemes of her Southern Belle mother).

It’s not like we haven’t seen plenty of adaptations.  The movies, the fanfiction-esque spin-off series of books, the zombie apocalypse version by the author of soon-to-be-film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (clearly, some of these adaptations have been truer to the book than others).

About this “The Lizzie Bennett Diaries,” however, I have mixed feelings.

The youtube series is cleverly written and entertaining.  The actress who plays our heroine is gives us a great sense of the original Elizabeth Bennett’s rebellious (and occasionally sullen) streak; Lydia’s s preening flirt (a coquette, as Austen would have said); and Jane is sickly sweet.  In terms of characterization, all is well with the world.

Nevertheless, Jane Austen’s novel wasn’t chick lit or paperback romance.  The emphasis on marriage, expectations of women in 19th-century England, and class dynamics in a stratified, straight-laced society made Pride and Prejudice a pointed social commentary.  As of the latest episode, I’m not sure that Hank Green’s version has that yet.

Still, it’s worth the watch: check it out on youtube and decide for yourselves whether anything has been lost in translation.  I’d love to hear what y’all think (and I say that completely non-sarcastically).

My 3 Proudest Moments as a College Student (all of them exceptionally strange)

28 Apr

Like thousands of other twenty-somethings across the country, I’m graduating from college this spring.  In fact, I’m graduating this week.  It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet, though that might be due to the fact that I have 5+ years of grad school ahead of me.  Fun!

Team USA Quidditch at the University of Alabama, preparing to lose to Iceland.

I never went to a football game, stayed up no later than 10 pm on weeknights, and maintained my admittedly bizarre and anachronistic 19th-century teetotaling ethos the entire four years–but even so, I’m still going to miss being an undergraduate at the University of Alabama.  And maybe it is all that 19th century research, but I’m feeling a little sentimental.

In that vein, here is a list of my Top 3 Proudest Moments as a college student–all of them being very, very strange.

1. Reformation! The Musical

When I was in middle school, I was president of the Drama Club and performed in a number of musical productions.  I was so good that, in fifth grade, I was the understudy for the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist.  In eighth grade, I was the understudy for Wendy in Peter Pan.

I was an awesome understudy.

It’s only logical, then, that I got my breakout starring role this year as Martin Luther in “Reformation! The Musical,” a short film I wrote, filmed, edited, and bankrolled myself .  I was amazed that so many of my friends actually agreed to participate.  We were equally amazed at how horrible the movie turned out to be.

Our tagline?  “The worst film in all of … history.”

 

Hey, you can’t say we didn’t have fun.

2. Team USA Quidditch at the World Cup

Way, way back in high school, I spearheaded the creation of a quidditch league at my school.  That’s right, quidditch.  We even got in the county newspaper, which would have been super awesome except that the reporter included the fact that the league was organized by a group of my friends and me passing notes in AP Calculus.  Our teacher was quite gracious about the revelation–maybe because it was already pretty obvious that I was never going to pass that AP exam.  As she told me before the test: “Let’s get this over with so you can use words for the rest of your life.”

They gave me differential equations to solve.  I wrote them palindromes.

Team F*cking USA with an American flag I made out of cardboard and colored paper.

Imagine my delight when an organization at UA hosted a massive quidditch tournament two years ago.  I eagerly got a team together (mostly composed of my Reformation! cast mates).  We lost.  But this year, this year, I was determined that we would win. Well, win one game anyway.  After all, we were Team F*cking USA.

It was a dramatic final five minutes.  The Snitch ran onto the quidditch pitch in a sweat, both Seekers (one of them my precious younger sister) in hot pursuit.  I was playing Beater, but had thrown my last bludger at an enemy player.  The other team’s Seeker was getting closer and closer to the tennis ball dangling from the back of the Snitch’s pants.  My sister, exhausted but still determined, having stripped out of her sweatpants into pink running shorts right on the field, was only a few steps behind.  I shouted to my team’s other Beater: “Aim for the Seeker!”  She had a bludger in her hands and, in one last desperate act, pelted the enemy Seeker in the balls.  He doubled over in pain, and my sister caught the Snitch.

I had never loved her so much as I did that moment, and I doubt I ever shall again.

3. Senior History Honors Thesis

About three weeks ago I defended my senior history Honors thesis, a microhistory of youngest daughter of a white cotton planter and enslaved African American woman in Reconstruction-era Alabama.  I’d give more details, but I think this could turn into a dissertation and I’m terrified of my story getting scooped before I have a chance to publish.  There’s a reason they call academia the School of Hard Knocks.

Don’t they?

Confessions of a Certified Slytherin

27 Apr

Someone who (at age 21 and a half) has read the Harry Potter books innumerable times and been to every midnight showing since Order of the Phoenix is, probably, a little old to be signing up for a kids’ literary enrichment website.  Most of my peer group are the same way–I can walk into almost any classroom on campus and make a comment about the Muggle civil liberties infringements brought about by the International Statute of Secrecy to general agreement and outrage (seriously, don’t Obliviate spells strike you as incredible invasions of privacy?).

So why did we all sign up for Pottermore?

Two words: Sorting Hat.

For over a decade now, almost an entire generation of readers have been wondering what house they would be placed in, should they have been the lucky recipients of a Hogwarts letter to save them from the trials and tribulations of fifth grade and its mixed fraction computations.  Putting on a magical old hat that reads your mind and tells you about the deepest parts of your personality would be super creepy when you think about it, but way cool.  The closest thing we Muggles have to that sort of insight is psychotherapy, and, I assure you, that may be creepy and unnerving, but it’s definitely not fun.

As the series unrolled, I began to resign myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t have been a Gryffindor.  Or if I were, I’d be like Neville in the early books (before he got super badass and faced down Voldemort and friggin decapitated Nagini).

Of course, I had the consolation of relative surety that I wouldn’t be a Hufflepuff either.  I mean, no one has ever accused me of being “warm” or “kind.”  Whatever that means.

I expected Ravenclaw.  Because you see, friends, academic elitists aren’t made, they’re born.  And I’ve been correcting people’s grammar since I learned how to read.*

But as you may have guessed from the title, I’m not an eccentric, quirky, non-conforming Ravenclaw.  I’m not a noble, self-sacrificing Gryffindor.  I’m not a cheery, loyal Hufflepuff whose badger mascot is a little less lame now that the honey badger no longer has to give a you-know-what.

I’m in the house of You-Know-Who.  The house of magical racists and dungeons and snakes that turn people to stone.  I’m a Slytherin.  And as good ol’ J.K. says in her video intro to the sorting process–the decision is final.

The thing is, after a moment of stunned silence as I sat in front of my computer, I realized that it makes absolutely perfect sense.  For more than ten years I’ve avoided seeing it because, despite J.K. Rowling’s insistence that Slytherins aren’t all bad, we’ve never actually seen a good one.  Pottermore tells us Merlin was a Slytherin, which is cool, but as an historian, I’ve got to say that it’s doubtful King Arthur, Camelot, and Merlin ever existed.  It’s probably a myth some woebegone Slytherin made up so her housemates would feel better about themselves.

I should have seen the warning signs long ago, but I refused to look the basilisk in the eye.  It’s done now, and my metaphorical magical heart has turned to stone.  Some of you, dear readers, might be like me: fearing to know your true self.  Maybe you’ve been designated a Slytherin; maybe you’re afraid to put on that hat.  The following is for you.

A Guide to Accepting Your Serpentine Heritage

1. Would you describe yourself as cunning?

The first time Harry and Co. hear the Sorting Hat sing its sinister, sibilant song, the part about Slytherin goes like this:

Or perhaps in Slytherin/ You’ll make your true friends,/ Those cunning folks use any means/ To achieve their ends.

You, like me, may prefer to imagine yourself as a frank, open, straightforward person.  Certainly not deceitful in any inherent sense.  But think back to your past: at any point in your academic or workplace life did you do something like this?

A girl I know–I’m not going to give any names, but she writes some second-tier sci-fi/whatever else blog on wordpress–went to a Catholic high school.  She was diligent, hard-working, and hid her contempt for certain classmates with impressive grace and aplomb.  She had almost all of her classes with the same 20 or so girls, all of them smart, all of them hard-working.  But one in particular annoyed this friend of mine.  That girl was pathologically hard-working.  Like, obnoxiously diligent.  And my friend didn’t like being shown up.  One week near the end of their senior year, my friend’s teacher told the class that there were some extra assignments for those who wanted some points to shore up their grades.  Both my friend and the other girl had better-than-perfect grades in the class.  But that other girl said that she’d do the assignments anyway.

My friend, as I said, didn’t like being shown up.  She knew that the other girl, let’s call her Mary, because she was freakin’ perfect, would get all sorts of brownie points for being pathologically diligent.  My friend tried to explain to Mary that there was no reason to do the additional essay or whatever but no, friggin’ Mary was going to do it anyway.  My friend considered doing the extra work too, simply to keep pace.  But then she realized something: this new assignment wasn’t extra credit.  It didn’t go on top of the grade; it just got averaged in.  Which meant that someone whose grade was already an A+ could actually suffer a net loss in points by doing an extra essay that could only get her an A.

My friend encouraged Mary to write the paper.  My friend didn’t.  And my friend got the highest grade in the class.

Oh, and did I mention?  This was religion class.

I realize that that sounds kind of horrible.  But don’t judge my friend too harshly for her “cunning.”  What she did can be seen negatively, but that’s the easy answer.  If you really think about it, while her motives were hardly pure, her reasoning was perfectly sound.  My friend wasn’t going to waste her time with something that couldn’t benefit her.  Mary was so caught up in her single-minded work-work-work attitude that she didn’t actually stop to think about what was in her interest (I’m going to guess that Mary’s a Hufflepuff).  So you see–cunning isn’t evil: it’s about achieving your goals.

And speaking of goals…

2. Do you have any plans to take over the world?

Or at least, your little piece of the world?  You don’t need to build a giant laser on the moon and try to blow up the earth to be ambitious.  And besides, that’s horribly cliché.

From the Sorting Hat’s next song:

And power-hungry Slytherin/ loved those of great ambition.

There’s nothing wrong with a little ambition, you know.  It’s not all throwing money around and waving silver-headed canes in people’s faces like the Malfoys would have us believe.  Ambition takes determination, hard work, intelligence, and long-term planning.  You have to imagine what you want to be in five, or ten, or twenty years and have the discipline to make those dreams come true.  And you know why Slytherins are good at that?  I’ll tell you why: because, unlike the namby-pamby other Houses, we don’t call them “dreams.”

We call them plans.

3. Do you care about people’s bloodlines?

In its final appearance in the books, the Sorting Hat gives us this even less flattering portrait of the serpent House:

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those/ Whose ancestry is purest.”

Okay… not going to bother with that part.  “Pure-blood” talk gives me the creeps.  Let’s just admit that, as a House, we’ve turned out an unfortunate number of seriously nasty characters and be done with it.

Conclusion

The point is, brother and sister Slytherins, that while we may get a bad rap, we just need to own it.  Not the Death Eater stuff, obviously, but the cunning and ambition.  That’s not a bad thing.  It’s more effective than the abstract intellectualism of the Ravenclaws, and do I really need to insult the Hufflepuffs again?  I mean, their House ghost is the Fat Friar and they live in a cellar next to the kitchens.  What else is there to say?  As for the Gryffindors, well, I’ll just quote a badger friend of mine:

“Gryffindors are like Hufflepuffs, except bro-y.”

Well said, friend.  Well said.

*As a side note, and further evidence that I would make an awesome Ravenclaw, I can still distinctly remember at least two years before I learned how to read and write.  My older sister, 2 years above me, was making my mother cry with her staged readings of “The Giving Tree” (friggin communist altruist hippies).**  Meanwhile, I got my hands on a little pink-and-white notebook wherein I would make scribbles and try, to no great avail, to inscribe them with meaning.  I was so jealous I wanted to papercut my sister with her precious book.***

** I apologize.  I worked a summer at the Ayn Rand Institute.  Sometimes this stuff just comes out.

*** Oh god … I totally am a Slytherin.

3 (Way Cooler) Alternate Explanations for Grant Cochran’s Resignation

24 Sep

Facebook and Twitter were on fire when I woke up today, after the University of Alabama’s campus paper the Crimson-White broke the shocking, shocking, oh so shocking news that UA’s SGA president, Grant Cochran, has resigned.

Wait… what?

UA students are weaned on ghost stories of “The Machine,” the shadowy Greek organization that supposedly holds the Student Government Association in the palm of its hand, rigging elections and keeping independents from winning major offices.  A nobody like me, for example, can be appointed Ambassador to the Libraries probably only because nobody else applied.  I’m so bottom-tier, I get left off email lists.

Which means I really don’t know what I’m talking about.  BUT, I do think that if something this dramatic had to happen, it should at least be for reasons less mundane than what the CW reported at 3:27 am–that “SGA President Grant Cochran has resigned amid allegations that irregularities occurred in the selections process for the SGA’s First Year Council, a freshman leadership forum within the student government.”

Come on people–booted from office because of freshmen?  How terribly banal.  In the interest of totally unfounded conspiracy theories, here are my 3 Way More Interesting Explanations for El Presidente’s Resignation:

1. The Illuminati

Everyone knows that Alabama’s practically the buckle on the Bible belt.  The shiny, happy, hymn-singing buckle.  But what you probably don’t know is that the Illuminati have a strong presence in campus affairs as well.

That’s right.  Albino, self-flagellating monks a la DaVinci Code forced UA’s SGA President to resign.  Probably, they pressured him into putting their Catholic First-Year Council applicants at the top of the list, thus furthering their hegemonic control over campus politics.  I would suggest the Homecoming Queen watch out.  She’s next.

2. British Alien Malleteers

No list of conspiracy theories could possibly hope to be complete without positing something, anything, about extraterrestrial life.  But I don’t mean just any aliens.  I mean a creature like that British sci-fi show alien Doctor Who.  There’s a reason so many Malleteers walk s0 jauntily around campus in their TARDIS shirts–and it’s not just because they’re fans of the show.  That would be lame.

It’s because they know it’s based in reality, and that the Day of Judgment has come.

I’ve been doing some close reading of the Mallet gospel, that mystical piece of 1970s literature called “The Book of Marvin.”  Let’s look at Chapter One:

3. And the Priests raised their voices in a great wail, saying, “O Mallet, why hast Thou abandoned us? Where be the Strength of Mallet, which saveth the seat of Power, which dismayeth the Greek, which shunneth the way of conformity, which maketh us to be honored above all Men?”

5. And Mallet said, “Yea, my Priests do suffer grievous pain, at the hand of the Greek and the cockroach, of the administrator and the Department of Health.”

6.”Lo, I shall send down a new Spirit, who shall have all Power over the enemies of the Priests of the Spirit Mallet; and he shall be called Marvin.”

7. “And He shall have dominion over the fowl of the air and the beast of the field, and the Greek and the jock shall He lay low; then will the Priests of the Spirit Mallet be honored above all Men.”

Obv, that speaks for itself.  The writers of the Book of Marvin propesied THIS VERY DAY.  The Greek has been laid low–at the hands of a spirit “sent down” from space.  A spirit named Marvin.

Naturally, keeping people from seeing the connection between Marvin and the popular tv series based on his spacetime adventures, is why we talk about Doctor Who instead of the true name, Doctor Marvin.

3. Vampire Takeover

It seems curious to me that this news story was released at 3:27 am… until I considered who exactly was doing the releasing.  Quite clearly, vampires–strictly nocturnal, remember–have taken over the campus media.  If you recall, earlier in the year the CW ran a large number of articles and opinion pieces on the policies (or lack thereof) regarding student organization seating.  The point of all this was doubtless an attempt to distract from the real drama going down this football season:

Vampire attacks.

If students could be kept riled up over the unfairness of block seating, letters to the editor about blood-sucking monsters attacking fans could be kept out of the papers.  Those people you see passed-out drunk tailgating might not be drunk after all.  They might be half drained of blood, struggling for life and their humanity as hundreds of mindless students and alumni carouse all around them.

Hey, why do you think we call it the Crimson Tide?

5 Probably Horrible Science Fiction Plots I Dreamed Up This Year

23 Sep

So, there are a couple important reasons I’m studying history instead of, say, creative writing:

Cite your sources or die!

One: The stories practically write themselves.

Two: The characters are usually more interesting.

And three: I’m a wizard with footnotes.

But there’s always been a part of me deep down inside that wanted to write fiction, yearning to go all crazy second-person, present-tense, steam-of-consciousness on readers’ asses.  (Actually, in the first major original research I did for history a couple years ago, I did try to write the intro in the present tense.  My professor sighed sympathetically and simply said: “I tried doing things like that when I was starting out too.”)  I’m cured of that delusion now, but sometimes, on the dark, stormy nights of REM cycles, my subconscious rebels.

I’ve been writing down my dreams almost every night since fifth grade.  That’s… 12 years now.  Which is kind of messed-up in itself.  BUT, it also means I have a fantastic record of what I’d write if I weren’t sane.  Personally, I think they’d be awesome.

NOTE: These are actual excerpts from my current dream journal.  Otherwise known as Volume 23.

1. “Prepare to Suffer”  (Nov. 14, 2010)

Abe Lincoln says to the boy, as the kid puts on his floppy straw hat, long beige canvas-like coat, and picks up his staff in preparation for his journey—“Prepare to suffer.”  Lincoln has taken this trip before, and I think to myself, If I didn’t know better I’d say Lincoln’s read some Nietchze.  I am going on the journey then, and there’s a copy of a hardcover book (an old book with a spine that’s not very sturdy anymore) which says something to that effect.

Lincoln takes us to this man/prisoner being interrogated in a room.  His name is “Nikator.”  He’s calm and nonchalant, and tells one of the men in there (there are a number of FBI agents) that he could kill him and escape if they were alone—and says all of this with a smile and a laugh.

I have to leave because I’m an actress who gets these bit parts in some murder mystery show, where I’m stabbed with a sword in an elevator.  Of course it’s fake, but I still dread the part when it plunges in and then comes out the back, because I feel the pressure.  Then I fall over backward and the point coming out my back balances me above the ground.

Afterward, I realize that there’s a flap of skin missing on my stomach, and my intestines dangle out a bit.  I hold them in as I look for the doctor, who isn’t wearing pants and has an unbuttoned short-sleeve pint shirt in lavender and blue.  He’s been drinking, and doesn’t want to sew me up.

NOTE: I envision this as an alternate history sort of psychological thriller, with a lot of gnostic philosophy between chapters.  Kind of like a cross between Philip K. Dick and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

2. “Diarfa eb ton od, alebasi.”

Pronounced: “DARE-fuh eeb ton ood, al-EB-uh-zih.”

NOTE: Backwards, this reads “Isabela, do not be afraid.”  Obviously it would be incorporated into my novel as a not-that-cryptic-at-all message from the heroine’s (obviously Isabela’s) historical doppelganger Rose Hawthorne (daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne), who keeps appearing to our heroine in vivid mystical visions.  Not that this has actually happened.  But compare pictures of us as children, and you’ll totally see what I mean:

Spooky.

3. F8

On vacation somewhere with mom and [my sisters], and we’d been there previously.  I find things I left for myself: like hints in a live-action game of Clue we played, only this time it was really serious.  I pass this little hill of rocks and bricks and sticks I’d been working on the year before, painting them blue to mark for future-me to find.

There are directions above an arch like a doorway without a door or walls outside.  It says to go over the “Giants’ Path,” and then a certain number of steps past a nail on a post, or sthng.  I go the direction indicated, through some trees, barefoot, and hit a pitch black lake.  [My sister and cousin] are with me—I ask her: How do we get across this?  We walk, she says.  But I’m up to my neck quickly.  She is out far into the middle really quickly, but I try and gesture to her—it’s near the shore, to the right, submerged in the water at this end: the Giants’ Path.  We go over a great royal blue plank bridge I’d forgotten was there.

Across the bridge is a house, very old, that’s like a library.  There are scrapbooked pages propped on a dresser, news clippings on pink and yellow floral paper.  The pictures from the newspapers, however, are of King Henry VII ordering the execution of someone.  This is the answer to a mystery, I realize.  And the picture shows Henry looking at the camera with his tongue stuck out, like that famous picture of Einstein.  I realize Einstein must’ve been photoshopped from this one.

The message above the arch had given a jumbled code starting F8.  I immediately knew this was Library of Congress cataloguing code.  The books are numbered so in the house, but the F8 one indicated isn’t useful.  On my last trip there, I hadn’t found the newspapers.  In the piano bench, though, I do find my sister’s Level 2 Spanish book—which she hasn’t done, even though now she has Level 3.

NOTE: I’m sure you already realize where this is going, but it seems obvious to me that the house at the end of the Giants’ Path will be my portal to Narnia, where I’ll either find religion or else go all Golden Compass and kill God.  I’ll ask my editors what they think.  A major subplot, of course, will be my decision to get a Masters in Library and Information Sciences.

4. The Traveling History Circus (that’s my title of choice)

Penta is a young girl with short blonde hair and a small braid on the right side; talking to her grandmother Penta, about the little green bugs that used to live on flowers, aphids, and the yellow stems coming out of the center of the petals covered in pollen.  Penta is also the name of the place where they live, now completely submerged in water, so they’re amphibious people.  They are a people of oral history, and every year they send two children to a workshop.  Penta is one of them; she leaves at night, choosing the steepest and fastest of three paths up the mountain.

Its purpose is to seek out the talented young of these people and turn them into mobile historians—visiting other places and telling the stories of their culture.  This was one of the projects instituted by the new king of one region, whose power extends to influence over others nearby.  The king is bearded and made this announcement over a dam that was being worked on and should be ready “in two weeks” (which wasn’t true—it’s more like a month or more).  They are all water creatures, and Penta’s people live completely underwater.  One man came to the dam—he was a charcoal-gray color over his whole body and the narrator says: He was pale and wouldn’t have been noticed (in the water).

Penta is already unique, though few seem to realize it yet—she “remembered” aphids and pollen, wven though she’d never seen or heard of them before.  It was a sort of psychic collective unconscious.  Her grandmother, blind, sitting under a tree, had listened with a sense of wonder.

NOTE: This is one of those classic “coming of age stories,” with an Asimovian The Gods Themselves kind of twist regarding the lives of the alien people of Penta.  Naturally, there will be an incredibly complex background mythology, and the historians will ultimately foment rebellion across the countryside against the bureaucratic king.  Because that’s what historians do, am I right guys?  Shoot, I really need to think about what I’m posting… I’m applying to grad school this semester…

5. Terson Bragg

NOTE: Prepare for it.  This one’s seriously meta.

I suddenly remember that long time ago, I wrote a science fiction novel (unpublished) in which the hero was a man called Terson Bragg, who became a machine.  I have forgotten this book until recently.

Now, the technology is available to place human consciousness into a machine—I am to be the second to do it; My uncle was first.  The thing is that, for two seconds, the mind is placed in a machine way out in space, one of those out by the asteroid belt and Saturn, taking pictures.  So, this transfer can be done at a great distance.  And for two seconds, a person’s mind will be there, seeing what the machine sees, and all the vastness of space.  Uncle John says it was beautiful, so great and awe-some.  I am nervous, and worry that the two seconds will seem like such a long time, like a lifetime (Uncle John said it felt longer than seconds), and that I’ll be blinded by all the stars and celestial bodies.  But I know it is an opportunity I cannot miss.

I go to the front desk—the reception room all chrome and glass—of the company where this will take place.  I am holding my kindle, which is circular and about the diameter of the inner circle of our large Frisbee.  The woman at the desk uses that to ascertain my identity, but says that next time I should bring the proper paperwork [it had a name—sounds like ubiquitous], which looked like dark blue-green x-rays.  All the time I am frightened, like on the way up to the first drop of a rollercoaster, thinking all the time that I want to get off but knowing I can’t, and knowing I had to take this opportunity.

I return home.

Mom and my sisters and Uncle John and everyone ask me how it was, but I find—I can’t remember.  I literally can’t remember, and Mom suggests—maybe I didn’t do it after all.  Maybe I backed out.  But I don’t remember doing that either, and I know, I couldn’t have.  I was frightened, but determined.  I try so hard to remember, but I can’t.  I can’t.  And then they suggest—well, do you remember it four years ago?  Because four years ago I wrote the Terson Bragg book, and this robotic-mind technology is analogous—and perhaps when I shifted consciousness back the memories went to the place they thought they should be.  And I was panicked and said no, no, but I do have an image of space from a rotating spot, black but bright with a golden light, with stars and colors everywhere.  And beautiful.

Then the future.  The world has strange collapsing tendencies, and people sometimes float down from buildings I see on the empty streets.

FINAL NOTE: Besides the fact that the science is off, I kind of think I wrote that one pretty well, even half-asleep at my computer, probably not wearing my glasses.  And besides, when did iffy science ever stop science fiction writers?  And Terson Bragg is a badass character name.

#historymajornotes Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; Anne Bradstreet needs some lovin’

20 Sep

This is not an online comic.  Once, I had dreams of fame for my Protestant Reformation doodles, but I gave that up when it quickly became apparent that:

1. I can’t draw.  And

2. Protestant Reformation comics kind of have a limited audience.  (For the record, when I told my Reformation/Counter-reformation professor that I thought he looked like Johann Froben, he thought it was hilarious.)

But I still draw things in the margin of my notes, and I’m just conceited enough to put them online for the world.

Today, in the American lit class that feels like a history class (because the literature we’re reading is pretty much a bunch of Puritans griping about how hard it is to save people’s souls), the prof informed our class that, quote: “When I was your age, I thought Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God would be a really cool name for an indie rock band.”  Probably not what Johnny Edwards had in mind.  And cool, of course, is used in a very loose sense.

I’m an atheist, and that sermon still provoked some serious existential dread.  Let me share a passage:

If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot.

And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment.

So… what happened to “Jesus loves you”?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Buehler?

Meanwhile (and by meanwhile I mean mid-17th century), Goody Bradstreet the poet’s missing her husband, absent upon public employment.  The prof says it’s as close to Puritan erotica as you’re going to get:

… My Sun is gone so far in’s zodiac,
Whom whilst I ‘joyed, nor storms, nor frost I felt,
His warmth such frigid colds did cause to melt.
My chilled limbs now numbed lie forlorn;
Return; return, sweet Sol, from Capricorn;
In this dead time, alas, what can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father’s face.
O strange effect! now thou art southward gone,
I weary grow the tedious day so long;
But when thou northward to me shalt return,
I wish my Sun may never set, but burn
Within the Cancer of my glowing breast,
The welcome house of him my dearest guest …

Which is all nice and sweet, but we know what she’s really saying is: