Carissa Liberty Altizer: November 2009 Archives

Another Scrooge/Sinner Comparison

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After reading Karyssa's blog, Selfishness Prevails, it made me think again about this classic Christmas story and my last blog when I compared the church's unsaved metaphor as a sinner carrying chains to Marley's ghost.  If Scrooge and a sinner are essentially the same person carrying the burdens of their sins, why exactly did they decide to change in the end?  

I would like to believe that it was because they both saw the error of their ways.  Scrooge was genuinely touched and needed to do something to improve Tiny Tim's living conditions.  He actually realized the joy of giving and the stupidity of hoarding when he didn't even have anyone he loved to leave his money to after he died.  The sinner finds the Lord because he feels guilty about his/her past and desires to live a better life through the church and the Bible's direction.

In the end, how many people decide to change for purely selfish reasons?  How many people are just scared of going to hell?  Was Scrooge just scared to become another Marley, living his own life of hell -- condemned to walk the earth while dragging his sins behind him?  Questions to ponder. 

New Movie Trailer

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A Christmas Carol movie trailer

Hello everyone!  Just in case you don't know, Disney just came out with a new movie for Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol.  Jim Carey is the voice of Scrooge and it looks pretty good.  Check it out!

Is "A Christmas Carol" an Original Idea?

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"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost.  "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.  Is its pattern strange to you" (49).  

I was raised in a church where this image is given to explain the bondage people wear when they haven't declared to give their life over to Jesus Christ.  There are plenty of pamphlets and preachers who will give an explanation of their unsaved life by saying they felt like they were hauling around huge chains of sin before the Lord set them free.  I understand the comparison, it makes perfect sense and it is a good way to explain the burden of sin; however, now I'm curious to know if that explanation was used before Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol was written.  Did the church always explain a sinner's burden as heavy chains and misery, or did they decide to use Scrooge's future penance for greediness to explain all sin?  I even remember one story that described people who are unsaved as carrying around large garbage bags on their back.  Some people had to drag several bags while others only had a small pack -- but they were still forced to carry garbage everywhere they went because they refused to let go of their sin.  If I could remember the name of the story I would add a link to it, but I've completely forgotten.  If anyone has any idea of who stole whose idea for a great story, comment on my blog -- I'm curious!

Missing the Eight Count

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"Posody describes the study of poetic sounds and rhythms" (182).  

I love to dance.  Whether it's in Pittsburgh on Fridays or Saturdays with friends, dancing with my family at a wedding reception, or jumping around my apt to loud music -- I've always been the first on the dance floor.  I never took classes and I don't know any fancy moves, but I can feel the beat when I'm dancing and I never have to think about whether my body is in time with the rhythm or not.  It's just fun, and after my one and only pageant -- I think I'm going to keep it that way.  

My senior year I competed in Pennsylvania's Outstanding Young Woman contest and one of our judged requirements was a dance routine.  I went in thinking it would be fun and relatively easy, and then I noticed that every other girl there was either a professional dancer or a cheerleader.  Also, it wasn't just one song for the routine, we needed to learn six songs in 5 days.  I had a crash course in 8 counts, and saches.  Needless to say, I still can't count a decent 8 count and I can't remember a single thing that we learned.  The dance routine didn't go so well, but afterwords we all had a big end of the pageant dance.  I went out there and just did what I normally do and the other girls were shocked.  They all honestly thought that I didn't have any rhythm at all.  

I feel the same way about poetry.  I've been writing poems all my life.  Last semester one was published in Eye Contact, but I couldn't tell you the prosody of it.  For the life of me, I don't think I'll ever hear the stress and unstress of iambic pentameter.  I've been to several creative writing camps (like band camp, only better) and I've always written, but I don't feel like I'll ever get the specifics of poetry.  I understand the guts of it -- emotions, tone, pace, word choice, theme, and purpose, but when it comes to chapter 13, my eyes glaze over a bit.  I try to get it.  Every time I get a chance to study the information over again I do, but I just can't seem to put the steps in order and hear the 8 count.  

And just for the record, I never studied music and I never played an instrument.  I'm convinced the absence of music education was detrimental to my ear.  I think I'm going to make my kids  play the piano when they're little so they get it when they're young.  

Sorry, no convenient restrooms, you have to pee in the woods.

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"The notion that the literary humanities in particular have been at the heart of American higher education is, I think, a mirage." 

I began as a Communications major and Marketing minor because I thought that was as close to the English major as I was going to get.  The article is right, English majors don't seem to have very many options.  In today's society, we have to prove that we're versatile.  We can't just wave our license in front of an employer's face and say, "See, I'm qualified!"

 I feel like we chose to take the back roads without a GPS.  We'll get there eventually.  Sure, there were no restrooms so we had to stop to pee in the woods a few times.  Pack our own picnic lunch because there aren't any Burger Kings along the way, but in the end, English majors (and liberal arts majors in general) have seen more on the journey.  I like to think that our unnecessarily large debts have given us more knowledge and an edge on other job seekers who only know one field.  Most people will have (what's the statistic?) 7 to ten jobs in their life? 

I was never able to dive far enough into Communications to declare what I didn't like about it. I just realized that I wanted to be a teacher (and hoped to marry rich). I know you all are concerned about what you're going to do because you don't want to be teachers, but hey, at least you have teaching as a backup plan?

Maybe this is naive, but I feel like learning on the job is the only real kind of training a person needs for a large portion of careers. Obviously this doesn't apply to doctors or lawyers, but numerous secretarial/desk positions, hospitality, management... I think with a few extra classes (many companies are willing to pay for if you've proven yourself to be a good employee) will train you for the particulars of a job as long as you have the skills to learn the material. I feel like most undergraduate degrees are simply to teach people how to learn on their own, research, study, ask questions, and seek out the answers from reliable sources.

I guess we'll all find out whether we were foolish to choose English as our major in a few short years.  The good part is that we can always change our minds.   Sure, that means several more years dedicated to schoolwork and knee deep in debt, but it can be done.  Hopefully by then we'll know exactly what career we want and how to go about getting it... 

Class comments

1836 CSI Screenplay

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Creepy, but well written.  "Porphyria's Lover" is like reading an 1836 screenplay for CSI.  We went over this poem in class for quite awhile so I really don't have to much to add that hasn't already been said.  I'm still questioning just how long the lover's hair must have been (or how tiny her neck) for her hair to wrap around it three times.  I haven't studied any other poetry by Robert Browning so I am still indecisive on whether the poem is about murder or erotic asphyxiation.  No matter which it began as, I'm pretty convinced it ended with a dead woman leaning on a crazy man in bed stroking her long blond hair while writing a poem.  Creepy imagery.  It's just another story to warn people about who they trust and choose to love.  Even if he was made crazy by the disease porphyria (which I'm assuming is quite rare?) the man's behavior is frightening to try and rationalize.    

Chekhov -- Also spelled Tchekhov. Who knew?

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Tomorrow is my presentation, and I admit, I'm a little nervous.  Public speaking is the number one fear, even above dying, so I know I'm not alone.  It may be strange that I'm worried about giving a presentation when I want to be a teacher, but teaching a lesson to kids and giving a presentation to my college peers are two very different types of public speaking. 


I had a really difficult time attempting to locate a peer-reviewed article on Chekhov and The Bear.  Actually, not a single person has written any literary criticism on the play in English (I'm not sure about Russian).  With the librarians help, I did eventually find a great book of literary criticisms titled, A Chekhov Companion, Edited by Toby W. Clyman.  I decided to discuss Martin Esslin's piece on "Chekhov and the Modern Drama.  I'm going to explain Chekhov's contributions to modern drama. First, I'll explain the main elements of traditional drama, and then I'll discuss the original changes he made that have drastically changed modern theater (and as a result, radio, movies, television). 


Next, I'll take a closer look at The Bear and focus on how Chekhov uses the lover's unappealing qualities to bring humor to the play through exaggeration and sarcasm, while making love their only redeeming quality.   We'll examine Luka's humorous contributions, and then focus on Mrs. Papov and possible explanations why her mourning doesn't seem sincere.  We'll examine her relationship with her past husband, and why she has decided to mourn in such an extreme manner.  I'll finally finish off the discussion with a look into Smirnov's character.   


In order to put together my presentation I started by reading the play, researching a bit of his biography, and then consulting on-line data bases for articles.  Next, I headed to the library.  There I discovered that Chekhov is also spelled Tchekhov.  Who knew?  I examined my article options, and then I did a close reading.  I wrote down everything I found interesting when I was close reading and when I read several essays in A Chekhov Companion.  I eliminated excess information that wasn't relevant, and then I typed my notes for my presentation.  Tomorrow, I will take one final look at my classmate's blog entries for additional question ideas, although I'm afraid I need to cut my presentation as it stands.  Tomorrow I'll practice with a stop watch and then I'll continue to trim it down.



Carissa Liberty Altizer

Dr. Jerz

Writing About Literature, EL 237

November 13, 2009


Portfolio 3:

Now that the semester is almost over, I feel comfortable with the nature of blogging and I have been using the program with confidence.  I still have a few questions; for example, how did Karyssa put the actual John Henry Youtube video on her blog instead of just adding a link?  Also, I want to know why half of my links are blue and half are purple.  I hope they can both be accessed the same way?  On my last blog I mastered URLs, now I want pretty pictures and colors too! 

I think blogging was more important at the beginning of the semester than it is now because originally, I felt too shy to speak up about what I read in front of the class without the security of a prewritten response.  Now that I feel comfortable with my classmates, I am able to easily ask questions, make connections, and respond to what others say during class discussions.  Because of our blogging assignments, I began using an index card to mark interesting quotes, ask questions, and to mark a reminder on passages that I found interesting and wanted to discuss more.  I eventually stopped printing out my blogged responses, and now I feel like I have opportunities to join in on discussions that I did not write about.  If I don't know what to say, I refer to my index card. 

Blogging in advance still helps me to work out an educated response during class (a few less ums and uhs) but the activity has less impact on my discussions in class than it did previously.  Because I didn't feel like blogging was helping me out as much as it did earlier in the semester, I slacked off a bit in getting all of my entries in on time which hurt my ability to get feedback and responses from other classmates.  However, I did make more of an effort to write meaningful comments and responses to others, and I have more timely responses than I did in Portfolio One or Two.        


Coverage: I wrote a response for every article, poem, and work of literature that we have read thus far.

J.  -What does the initial J. stand for?

How do you Sculpt a Legend? -Contemplating the difficult job the artist must have had deciding whether to portray John Henry as a man or a legend.

Yep. I get it. -A brief blog on setting.

Great Job, Aja! - Edgar Allen Poe presentation, "The Mask of the Red Death"

Columbus and John Henry were Both Sweet Guys -- Please Don't Ruin My Childhood - What will Guy's scholarly research prove about the life of John Henry, and how much do people really want to know?

Dr. Seuss' Stories Were Political? - The Holocaust presentation

I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours! - Comparing Benny's character from John Henry Days to Ray in The Quick and the Dead.

I Gave Up on CNN - A look at irony

Bravery - My first reaction to "Theme for English B"

Read it out loud - Read Keats poetry out loud for it's full effect

I Sigh My Lack of Brain... - Relating to Shakespeare's poetry

Lost in a Library and Looking for a Topic -Helpful hints in Writing About Literature for my research paper

Extra Almonds and a Big Hug - Defending Miss Brill

The Value of a Dollar - Just how stingy is Vladek?

Artistic Differences Between Maus and Prisoner on the Hell Planet - Maus is obviously Spiegelman's more mature artwork

Roberts Ch 8: The Siamese Tail - a poem that demonstrates the five senses 


2. Depth: These are what I believe to be my best blogging samples. 

The Value of a Dollar

Artistic Differences Between Maus and Prisoner on the Hell Planet

Columbus and John Henry were Both Sweet Guys -- Please Don't Ruin My Childhood

I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

Extra Almonds and a Big Hug

How do you Sculpt a Legend?


3. Discussion: These articles have sparked comments or discussions from my peers.  

I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

I Sigh My Lack of Brain...

Lost in a Library and Looking for a Topic


Read it out loud

The Value of a Dollar

Artistic Differences Between Maus and Prisoner on the Hell Planet


4. Interaction: These articles are examples of blogs where I either disagreed with the opinions of my fellow classmates or added a meaningful comment to their blog discussion.

Authenticity of Mice - Melissa

Cracking Facade - Melissa

Very Fictional Fiction - Josie

Denial Isn't Just a River, It's a State of Mind - Kayla

My Thoughts Are Haunting Me - Brooke

Absence Makes the Heart...Sad - Karyssa

What is True? - Jessie

Whitehead's Writing is a River - Karyssa

Just for Fun - Karyssa


5. Xenoblogging:


Comment Informative:


Absence Makes the Heart...Sad


Comment Primo:


Authenticity of Mice

Very Fictional Fiction


Comment Gracious:


Extra Almonds and a Big Hug

I Sigh My Lack of Brain...


6. Wildcard:

Dr. Seuss' Stories Were Political?


7. Timely

Submitted at least a day before class:

Roberts Ch 8: The Siamese Tail

Artistic Differences Between Maus and Prisoner on the Hell Planet

Dr. Seuss' Stories Were Political?

The Value of a Dollar


Submitted before class:

I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

I Gave Up on CNN


Read it out loud

Extra Almonds and a Big Hug

The Value of a Dollar

How do you Sculpt a Legend?

Class Comments


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It's not like I didn't expect it, but of course I don't feel like there is any real resolution to this story.  In the end, we aren't sure if J lives or dies, but we do know that he has come a long way since we first met him at the beginning of the story.  He isn't so self-absorbed and his hard exterior cracked a bit for Pamela.  He actually bought a stature of John Henry.  Perhaps he was feeling a bit sentimental?  Whether he lives or dies, we don't know for sure, but the mystery of J. is solved.  I'm going to take a guess and say that J. stands for John, and his middle name is probably Henry.  This assumption leads me to assume that he isn't going to go with Pamela.  His mission is to beat the record like John Henry's was to beat the machine.  Sure, they both would probably have been happier if they would have just let the entire notion go, but they have (and had) names to make and pride on their side.

How Do You Sculpt A Legend?

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"No one could possibly agree on what he looked like.  He was everyman...The artist who made this statue had a big job" (262).

How do you sculpt a legend?  Pamela explains the difficulty of the artists job perfectly on page 262 (I didn't want to type the whole page).  Should he look like a man, struggling during a hard days work?  Should he have beads of sweat running down his head, strain in his muscles from the work, and a far off look in his eyes -- like he can't wait to be off the clock to go home to his wife?  

Or perhaps, John Henry is larger than a man.  The artist could depict the Hercules-like warrior who is made of muscle and strength.  He wants to be pounding away on the railroad; he never thinks about going home, eating dinner, crawling into bed with sweet Polly Ann so they can listen to the crickets at night and dream about a better, less impoverished life for their future children.  He is larger than life, other men shutter when he walks by them.  Trees shake, his hammer is too big for others to hold.  

Who is John Henry, and how do you sculpt the legend and the man?  Which is more important for others to remember?  Who do people need to remember?  I think the scholar and the artist would have been able to sit down to have a nice chat together while they pondered this question.  

What do you all think?  Who is John Henry to you?  Is this a story you'll pass onto your children, or do you think it's a little insulting to encourage muscle mass over brains when it comes to accepting defeat?  Do you believe that John Henry beat the machine, or is it obvious that the machine beat Henry because he died with his hammer in his hand?  Yes, I believe the artist had a very big job.   

Yep. I Get It.

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Setting.  Yep.  I get it.  It's important, it sets the story up, and it helps to give characters personalities.  You know, the good old saying, "You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl."  Actually, I don't know if that is a saying or a movie quote.  Possibly both.  I liked this assignment in creative writing because it was easy for me to make the kitchen look scary or romantic, the pond in the park was a happy child's fantasy playground in one scene and a depressing scene for a fight that leads to a divorce in the next.  Add and take out different elements -- weather, trash cans, grass uncut or manicured, anonymous sweet little old ladies on benches feeding birds...

Great Job, Aja!

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I don't have too much to say about Edgar Allen Poe's "The Mask of the Red Death" because I feel like we discussed the majority of all there was to say in class.  I'm pretty sure this is the fourth time I've read and studied the story for a class (jr. high, high school, intro. to lit, and now). My enthusiasm wasn't all there because I have covered the material before, but Aja did a great job presenting the material.  I'm sure it was tough to be the first one to present (I didn't want to do it!) and I was impressed by the way she carried the conversation with the class and kept the information intriguing.  I never really thought about the specific meaning of each color until our class discussion.  I always assumed what their meanings were without consulting others opinions -- its interesting to hear other's thoughts!

John Henry Folk Song

John Henry by Johnny Cash!  This is good, you should listen!

"Herbert apologized for his grandfather, explaining that just a few years ago he used to tell him John Henry stories all the time, but now he has trouble remembering anything at all.  If only Guy had made it up here years before.  Even a year might have made the difference."

Unlike the junketers, Guy Johnson cares about what he writes.  He isn't visiting Talcott, West Virginia for free food and booze, he is doing it to memorialize a piece of history that he knows is disappearing --perhaps one that has already disappeared.  Guy was never on a List, and more than likely, by the time he makes it home the trip won't be an all expenses paid tour of the country side.  He isn't enamored with John Henry's strength and brute force, he wants to keep a part of folk lore alive by not only publishing the most accurate version of the John Henry song, but by finding proof that John Henry was either a real man or simply folk lore. 

 He compares John Henry's story to John Hardy because unlike Henry, Hardy's story is easy to trace.  John Henry was a newly freed slave with no proof that he even existed (if he did).  There are no birth certificates, town hall records, or even a grave site.  If he was a real man, he lived a poor man's life, constantly struggling to maintain his dignity as a free black man in a very prejudice society.  Hardy is a white man's folk song and Henry was a black man's song.  Years later, Guy feels like the white man is still on top because he can't even prove or keep alive a part of his heritage because of racial inequalities in the past.  This leads to another question --were John Henry days started for guilty white people, or are they to honor Henry's memory?   

Guy's story reminds me of Dr. Kissler's dissertation onHenry V.  She set out to find historical proof that Henry V was not the perfect king that Shakespeare made him out to be.  He alludes to his wild youth spent in bars with inappropriate friends, but after he becomes king, not a single bad word was written about him anywhere.  She searched every book she could find, but in the end, she needed to change her thesis statement and wrote about how Henry V is indeed recorded in history as a perfect king.

Perhaps Guy will come to a different conclusion that what he set out to discover.  Maybe John Henry doesn't need to be a real person, perhaps his message and his legend is all that needs to be known.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss -- sometimes we want to believe that Columbus was a nice guy who deserves a holiday and John Henry is a sweet, hard working man who believed in freedom and beating the machine to prove his worth.  Let me keep my childhood stories, won't you?  Isn't it all in what you make it?   

Karyssa Blair said, To me, John Henry was a martyr for the cause of human perseverance 
over technology.  This interpretation is not about race whatsoever, but about humanity in general."  

Dr. Seuss' stories were political?

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On Monday, October 26, I went to Rev. John T. Pawlikowski's presentation, "The Catholic Church and Human Rights."  To be honest, I don't feel like I took away very much from the speech.  I have heard several Holocaust speakers and all of their presentations have been very moving.  However, Rev. Pawlikowski's piece did not directly relate to the Holocaust.  He mentioned it because it is obviously a human right's topic, but it wasn't the main point of his speech.  I'm not Catholic, so all of the references to Catholic history and past bishops went over my head.  His speaking skills were not very energetic either.  I'm sure if I would have attended other presentations I would have a different response overall.

However, I'm still really glad I went because I picked up a helpful booklet for my research paper, American Cartoonists/ Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.  The book taught me a lot about the subject.  Did any of you know that all of Dr. Seuss' books have political messages?  Also, comic books were so popular during the 1940s because America needed a hero like Superman and Captain America during WWII. 

I think this book is in the Holocaust room in the library.  I suggest it.  It's a quick, entertaining, informative read.  Check it out!

I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

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I miss reading modern books.  I must admit, I was upset over the Editorial assignment for this class because I haven't read anything newer than Paradise Lost all semester.  I used to read for fun all the time, but now I am basically only reading to keep up with classes. I don't feel up to par in the modern literature world or how authors are doing things differently than they did in the past.  

The Quick and the Dead was out of the ordinary for me because Williams brought in so many characters that sometimes only scarcely crossed each other's paths in order to make a point on the theme of death.  I took a special interest in Ray's character because I felt like he would have a bigger role in the book and would eventually become one of the main characters.  I just assumed that every character who was given more than a chapter would play a major role in the outcome of the story.  Well, Ray wasn't exactly a main character.  He was short lived --literally.  The girls killed him by tying him up in the desert to teach him a lesson about..actually, I don't think they even knew why they tied him up.  I felt like Ray's character could have played a much larger role in the story, but I suppose Williams felt that he served his purpose.  

I feel the same way about Benny, the hotel owner.  I took a special interest in Benny because my family owns a small 1940s motel on the lincoln highway.  It hasn't always been the most successful business, so I can certainly understand exactly what Benny is describing, 

"Benny and Josie had spent the better part of a month getting their humble in up to muster.  They repainted the rooms and defrosted the workhorse half-fridges, opened up a case of sanitized glasses and deposited vials of miracle shampoo-conditioner on the shower ledges.  It was time of woe for mildew.  He and Josie laid new carpet, they went down on their knees and into the silverfish" (32).

I especially enjoyed the section about Josie making up ghosts and adding a little extra in order to call rooms honeymoon suits.  Benny and Josie may as well be Bobby and Debbie, my parents.  They work hard, but hotels are a difficult small business to run.  Every single grain of sand that haphazardly gets rubbed into the carpet by guests rubs me the wrong way because I know that I'll be the one cleaning it up.  I have waited in the office for reservations, hoping they'll show because dad just bought new heaters for the rooms or laid down new carpet.  Hunting season and Fall Foliage Festival are the only two weekends that the Lincoln Motor Court are guaranteed to be booked solid.

I have a theory that newer authors are filling in the "scenery" sections with side characters.  Modern readers get frustrated with too much setting.  Twenty pages describing the West Virginian countryside just won't keep most readers hooked like it did before cable TV.  People and emotions are more interesting.  Instead of describing the remote, privately owned hotel, Whitehead described the owners, particularly Benny. The information interests the readers more than a vivid description of J checking in at the front desk, and it introduces the reader to a local's perspective of the John Henry Days.

Is this a trend?  Are more authors adding character to their books who barely play a role because their personalities can basically be in place of scenery?  Benny's life reveals that the hotel is small, the locals are friendly but economically unsuccessful, and the town basically died after the railroad work was over.  The only thing the town clings to is it's history.

If anyone has an opinion on this theory, please comment!  Maybe you have read more modern authors than I have and you've noticed a trend?  Perhaps the "Ray and Benny" chapters are just fillers?  Scenery?  Some kind of literary technique of which I'm unaware?

In case you're interested in visiting the real John Henry Festival --


I Gave Up on CNN

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Since the health care debate became an issue, I've spent a lot of time watching the news to try and understand exactly what people feel about the issue and whether or not the public option will go through.  I've seen real Americans get up and scream during town hall meetings to defend the successful Joe the Plumbers out there who make over $250,000 a year.  I saw fake Americans argue that poor people should be healthy and happy.  I watched CNN wonder whether they could check the facts.  I gave up on CNN a few weeks ago.  Ironically, I feel like a more informed citizen from watching John Stewart and the Colbert Report than I ever did from after an hour with CNN. 


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"I am the only colored student in my class"

Bravery.  That is the first word that comes to my mind when I read this line.  I spoke about this topic in class today, so I may as well blog a little about it.  I'm embarrassed to say when I was researching colleges and I came across a predominately black school, I never even gave it a chance.  It didn't matter what type of classes they offered or how great the school sounded -- I automatically felt like I wouldn't fit in, so I didn't research any farther.  I think everyone in class has been pounded on the head with diversity lessons since we were young, and this year's election definitely brought race to the forefront of conversation and debate.  Honestly, I get sick of hearing about it.  At first I just want everyone to get over it, but then I notice myself stereotyping and I realize that every conversation our country has about race and diversity brings us closer to understanding.