April 20, 2005

The Half-Skinned Steer

Although this story isn’t very realistic, I liked it. This story was difficult to follow at first because it is constantly incorporating the past and present – fiction and what I believe to be true? Anyway, I really enjoyed the girlfriend’s story about Tin Head and his half-skinned steer. That painted a very vivid picture in my mind! Not necessarily something I wish to dream about…

“And all that distance Tin Head can see… and its red eyes glaring at him, pure teetotal hate like arrows coming at him, and he knows he is done for and all of his kids and their kids is done for, and that his wife is done for and that every one of her blue dishes has got to break, and the dog that licked the blood is done for, and the house where they lived has to blow away or burn up and every fly or mouse in it.”
This is obviously a story, but did it really happen? And what is up with Mero’s encounter with the half-skinned steer at the end? Is he imagining it? He had been outside in the cold for quite some time, especially because of the incident of locking the keys in the car and his method of obtaining them. Haha! He keeps saying that he hadn’t eaten in days… except for the terrible road food. So all I can come up with is that Mero is either losing it… not only because physically he is very cold, hungry, and tired from driving… but also because he is questioning his memories from where he grew up.
Nothing looks to him how it used to, gates and fences collapsed, entrances concealed with snow, etc… Bottom line, my interpretation is that Mero has been having emotional disturbances regarding his childhood and the new information regarding his brother’s death. He left his home and family behind and never turned back. These memories are all coming back to him and leaving him to not only wonder about how things turned out, but who his brother had become, and perhaps trying to justify his irresponsible actions. Also include that he is driving for four days, eating next to nothing – tired – probably nervous – and contemplative. This is how I can begin to make sense of the ending. I do not believe that a half-skinned steer with red eyes was waiting for him, but it does make for a great story!

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Proulx, ''The Half-Skinned Steer''

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Blood-Burning Moon

“Up from the skeleton stone walls, up from the rotting floor boards and the solid hand-hewn beams of oak of the pre-war cotton factory, dusk came. Up from the dusk the full moon came. Glowing like a fired pine-knot it illuminated the great door and soft showered the Negro shanties aligned along the single street of factory town. The full moon in the great door was an omen. Negro women improvised songs against its spell.” This introduction is told with such power and assurance that the full moon is rising and something bad will come with it. People still believe today that a full moon represents evil or weird/unexplainable behavior. Regardless, it is true within this story. There was an amazing use of imagery throughout, and especially with the deaths of both Bob Stone and Tom Burwell… We should have seen it coming with the early use of foreshadowing and title, “Blood-Burning Moon.” Only after you finish the story does it all really come together…

Mary asked on her blog if we feel bad for Louisa or if it was for the best that both men died… In response I will say that I do not feel bad for her. She is surely unfortunate to not know what is going on – as she sings hoping people will come to her, including Bob. I think that her song worked to keep the full moon’s spell away from her. It influenced her tremendously because now she does not have a choice of which man to be with, but is left alone. I really did not like either Bob or Tom. Mary’s right… they both did have their share of issues. Bob may have been intrigued by Louisa, but feeling superior to her because of her race and position is not acceptable. Tom is very uneducated (not necessarily his fault, but his passages were rather difficult to read and I could only imagine him speaking) and seems very violent. He immediately threatens to kill Bob and feels as if he should be the one for Louisa. Bottom line… they got what they deserved. Louisa is definitely better off.

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Toomer, ''Blood-Burning Moon''

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The Best Girlfriend You Never Had

I thoroughly enjoyed Pam Houston’s, “The Best Girlfriend You Never Had.” Lucy and Leo seem to share a great connection. They spend a lot of time together.
“A perfect day in the city always starts like this: my friend Leo picks me up and we go to a breakfast place called Rick and Ann’s… and then we cross the Bay Bridge to the gardens of the Palace of the Fine Arts to sit in the wet grass and read poems out loud and talk about love.”
Now… is that not romantic?! On weekends, they attend beautiful and elaborate wedding parties together as Lucy takes photographs – whether for work or fun. Lucy obviously loves Leo as more than a friend, and partly her upbringing and lack of love within her family is to blame for her inability to show him properly...

Mary brought up a great agenda item within her blog regarding Lucy. Lucy said, "I could tell you the lie I told myself with Gordon. That anybody is better than nobody. And you will know exactly why I stayed in the back of that Pathfinder, unless you are lucky and then you will not." Mary used this quote to explain how Lucy is like most people today in that they stay in bad relationships just to not be alone. I feel like this is very prevalent today, but I see it as being unhealthy and just worse in the long run.

Moira stated in her blog that this one passage is enough to sum up the story, and I completely agree: “You might forget, for example, that you live in a city where people have so many choices they throw words away, or so few they will bleed in your car for a hundred dollars. You might forget eleven or maybe twelve of the sixteen-in-a-row totaled cars. You might forget that you never expected to be alone at thirty-two or that a crazy man might be waiting for you with a gun when you get home tonight or that all the people you know - without exception - have their hearts wrapped around someone who won't ever love them back."
Even more, she said, “perhaps even, if you are feeling generous, the (dum dum dum) Meaning of Life.” I love it! This is so true! Moira said, “I guess the best that you can ever hope for is to get so absorbed in actually living your life that you manage to push all the crappy stuff about life to the wayside. When my best friend and I were talking about life the other day, I said to her that I felt the only way that life becomes bearable is if you realize that you will never understand anything and that everything always changes. If you can deal with those two things, you can deal with the rest of your life.” I feel that there is so much truth within that statement. Awesome blog, Moira.

I was saddened by Lucy’s story of the time she brought her boyfriend, Jeffrey (of whom she wanted to marry) home to her parents. She asked her father how he liked Jeffrey only for him to reply with, “Lucille, I haven’t ever liked any of your boyfriends, and I don’t expect I ever will. So why don’t you save us both the embarrassment and not ask again?” There is no doubt that these memories have scarred Lucy. Something I really liked about the story was its unorganized choppiness. I think it also helps to show how these past memories and stories play a part in our everyday life. Lucy and Leo liked to tell stories to each other. But these stories, especially Lucy’s stories regarding her family, make her who she is to a great extent. Lucy is scared, as she admits to Leo twice in the story. As I would have loved to see the two get together and take a chance at something beyond friendship, Leo seems very hesitant to let it go any further. He is in the same position as Lucy, as well as so many others, loving someone who will never love you back (as with Guinevere and his cardiologist girlfriend). The beginning of the story beautifully described: romantic, sensual, honest… Quickly the theme of marriage was thrown in as Lucy and Leo watched the groom and bride kiss:
“Sucker,” Leo says.
“Oh, right,” I say. “Like you wouldn’t trade your life for his right this minute.”
But truthfully, Lucy and Leo both want the same thing… a serious commitment and love ~ love that is not only given but received. I suppose this story had a bit of a depressing element to it. But it can help the reader see that you need to take chances and break away from your upbringing and past relationships to secure true love. There I go, showing my dorkiness… I always find a way to make a connection to my life with the stories I read.

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Houston, "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had"

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Here We Are

Dorothy Parker’s “Here We Are” was a very enjoyable short story. First off, I feel it is important to mention that this story was written in 1931, and times were much different in regards to romantic relationships and marriage. It was common practice for couples to wait to be intimate until the night of their honeymoon. Through the couples’ dialogue, one can see the blatant nervousness and sexual tension building between the two, as they arrive to their destination, going through their plans for the night, purposely avoiding conversation about sex…

They argue for the majority of the ride, about whether or not he likes her hat, his feelings for Louise, and her feelings for Joe Brooks, but yet they keep promising to never fight within the marriage. They seem to have a lot of doubts, particularly the wife, which is understandable ~ presuming that she will lose her virginity to him within just a few hours.

There is a lot of jealousy and mistrust between the two, and if this had been written in present day, I’m sure this marriage would be one that ends in divorce. It seems very trivial that she questions the man she just married about looking at one of the bridesmaids…! But this could just be the sexual tension and fear building up.

However, when considering the time of publication, it is quite possible new marriages began this way… with a reassurance of “Here we are… finally married and at the long-awaited honeymoon night.” While this would naturally bring happiness, joy, and relief, it also comes with nervousness, doubt, and uncertainty. After all, sex is important within a relationship. Making the life-long commitment to whom you know so much about but yet are completely unaware of how they will be in “that department” could cause some serious anxiety on a newlywed.

Today I feel that a lot of people marry for the wrong reasons, but also more couples are living together before tying the knot and engaging in premarital sex. Times are always changing… but it is interesting to read “Here We Are,” the tension was undeniable. Is the lack of intimacy and openness about it a good or bad thing? It seems unheard of today, but the newlyweds seemed very nervous about what was to come. I saw a lot of beauty within it, but also unanswered questions… most likely that would be answered throughout years of marriage and unconditional love. After all, I believe true love conquers all… marriage can be a beautiful and life-long commitment that representing many things, such as: monogamy, respect, friendship, acceptance, and love for one another. On a side note, I feel that the promiscuity and numerous premarital sexual relations are a fault on our society. Of course human beings have certain desires, but one of the greatest gifts of marriage is saving yourself for your mate. I found “Here We Are” to express so much beauty, sacrifice, and simplicity. It enables the reader to put themselves into the young couple’s place… to the excitement that comes with the wedding ceremony and anticipation to not only the honeymoon but the rest of their lives together and the many endless possibilities. ;)

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Parker, “Here We Are”

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Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf” truthfully annoyed me to the end! Mrs. May had such a miserable and annoyed outlook on life. She tried to justify why she put up with her living conditions and business with the Mr. Greenleaf… because no one else would put up with him as a landlord and she had done so for the past fifteen years.

When first introduced, Mrs. May was struggling with the conflict of the bull outside of her home, eating away at her home, but she refused to call Mr. Greenleaf, which I can understand was probably easier because his spoken English and manners need a lot of work. “Weighing it, she (Mrs. May) decided not to bother Mr. Greenleaf. She returned to bed thinking that if the Greenleaf boys had risen in the world it was because she had given their father employment when no one else would have him. She had had Mr. Greenleaf for fifteen years but no one else would have had him five minutes…”

While at first I believed her heart was in the right place (particularly because of her sacrifices for others – the Greenleaf boys), Mrs. May continues throughout the story to criticize everyone – Mr. and Mrs. Greenleaf and their sons, as well as her own sons. She is a very negative individual and finds happiness in other people’s unhappiness. Perhaps she needs to do some form of “prayer healing,” like Mrs. Greenleaf. Wesley made a great point when he told his mother that “the reason Mrs. Greenleaf had not aged was because she released all her emotions in prayer healing.” Despite her lack of cleanliness and poor physical appearance, Mrs. Greenleaf was definitely much happier and less angry than Mrs. May.

There was a great use of foreshadowing within this story. I believe it also teaches a lesson. Mrs. May had a problem with dealing with issues from the beginning. Rather than go to the source of the problem, she continued to complain and argue. This just caused more stress and unhappiness. She lived a life filled with reasons of why she did the things she had done (such as stay on the farm to make something out of it – despite everyone telling her she would be a failure).

Mrs. May also liked to criticize others and be jealous for their achievements (such as with the Greenleaf sons who had done nothing to receive the better things in life – as a result of injuries from serving in the war). It seems to me that she got what was needed in the end, because she would have never been happy with her life, as long as others were around her to criticize and try to feel superior to.

This story began and had a way of making you sympathize for Mrs. May, but through her deviance and thoughts filled with hatred, one learns she is no better than anyone else, and in fact, like a poison for everyone around her. This is especially seen as she smiles in the car before Mr. Greenleaf was to shoot the bull. She loved feeling in control and knowing that he would have to do something he absolutely hated. I received a story of morale from Mrs. May in that complaining about and criticizing everyone/thing in life will only leave you miserable and left alone to die with no one to care. A pessimistic attitude can consume you… and then it is too late. It reminds me of a great quote that I feel people should remember and incorporate into their daily lives…

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): O’Connor, “Greenleaf”

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You're Ugly, Too

Upon meeting Zoë Hendricks in Lorrie Moore’s “You’re Ugly, Too,” I was intrigued at the honest portrayal of an unwed career-focused woman who was self-conscious about her age, beauty, health, and life. Her ongoing sarcasm with everyone in her life (students, family and peers) was an obvious attempt to not show her true feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. I really feel as though she wanted to be loved and accepted, but just could not bring herself to let down her wall...

She had described some of her unsuccessful relationships in the past, but seemed rather cold towards love at this point in her life. I felt that her story in which the award-winning violinist (who was a friend of Zoë) returned to her hometown and met a local boy that ended with suicide over how he foolishly treated her told a lot about her feelings towards love.
I agree that it was rather ridiculous for her to give that immature boy the time of day when he not only disrespected her but insulted her in front of friends... not to mention let it consume you to the point of ending your own life. But... Zoë uses this story as her answer to what love is.
Because there was so much emphasis on Zoë retelling this story to people, she probably could understand and sympathize with the violinist’s position. Perhaps giving up a career in which you have done so much to achieve to not have love, but TRY to love (since it is something you constantly must work at and sacrifice for) would be foolish to Zoë, who had made great strides for equality within the workplace (which was previously all-male) and climbing the ladder of success.
Perhaps seeing how the famous violinist who had everything going for her killed herself as a result of being vulnerable to love taught Zoë to not succumb to love, being vulnerable. Additionally, Zoë’s insecurities and indecisiveness control much of her life, as seen in the last line of the story, “She smiled at him and wondered how she looked.” Zoë’s character is a lonely one. And I feel that she has given up on love, especially given her age, “I think I’m too old for fun,” and her feelings towards finding romance.
She seems quite paranoid about her health, as her thoughts resonate constantly about the tests being performed, including the recent ultrasound. I enjoyed this short story, but felt it ended too soon… as the case with many short stories. I was really looking forward to Zoë’s happy ending. However, given her personality and feelings toward love, I do not feel it would be appropriate.

On Tammy's blog, Moira posted a great comment:
“Oooh! You wrote: "It makes you look at how we respond to people and how we put our own feelings out there and build a wall without knowing we are doing it." That is a great point! That's something that we do pretty much subconsciously, not really realizing that our doing that -is- affecting and creating the world around us. I guess that trick is to become aware of your own devices and work to conquer them. You've got me thinking... sweet! ;c)

I totally agree with Moira. It is very true that Zoë’s behavior and interaction (or lack of) with others just encouraged a life filled with unhappiness and regret. If she does not change the way she views herself and others, she will not sustain a healthy relationship.

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Moore, "You're Ugly, Too"

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