The Jane Austen Social Scene Part IX: Marriage and Friendship

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(Photo source: themerrybride.files.wordpress.com)

Emma Woodhouse and Miss Taylor. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet and Charlotte Lucas. What do these pairs have in common? They each represent a pair of Jane Austen characters whose friendships were altered when one of them married. It then became Emma Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston. Elizabeth Bennet and Mrs. Collins.

One of the motifs of Austen’s novels is that of marriage. I would argue that a more specific theme would be how marriage alters friendships between female characters. Regardless of whether or not the marriage is to a likable character, such as Mr. Weston, or to a not so well liked character, such as Mr. Collins, the institution of marriage impacts the friendship and usually in a way that weakens it. Look at Lizzy and the former Miss Lucas: sure, Lizzy visits her friend and new hubby at their home, but Charlotte is no longer the friend Lizzy could confide in and gossip to at the beginning of the novel.

Austen’s observations regarding marriage and friendship ring true today. In getting married, the woman takes on the additional identity of someone’s wife, a role society promotes with traditional connotations. In other words, in marrying, the spouse is expected to become the priority while pre-existing relationships take a back seat. It’s no wonder that when Harriet Smith tells Emma about Robert Martin’s initial marriage proposal, Emma’s reaction is to persuade her friend to turn him down; in her eyes, she’s already lost one friend to a marriage, and she’s not about to lose another.

Does putting a ring on it mean putting an end to a friendship? Not necessarily. But it does mean that the friendship will not be the same as before.

 

 

 

Reading List:The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I received Amy Schumer’s book The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo for Christmas, and I meant to read it before the end of winter break. Call it a reading goal, but I was determined to finish it before returning for Spring semester. And I did (and, yes, I am proud of myself for accomplishing said goal – sometimes it’s not easy to make the time to read).

The book chronicles various aspects of Schumer’s life, from her childhood to her rise as the comedian she is today. As a fan of Amy Schumer, I loved it. Her writing style invites readers into the text so that it reads less like an autobiography and more like a series of conversations you would have with a friend. She even includes photographs at the end of most of her chapters, furthering this personal connection with the reader, allowing them to see more into her life.

Schumer is candid – she admits her faults, her mistakes, her imperfections. She owns them, not dismissing them to try to glorify herself in the eyes of the reader. Her honesty is what makes her both appealing and approachable for the audience. This quality is something Schumer is known for in her work and why I look forward to her next project.

2017 Book Kickoff:We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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Happy New Year!

I intend for 2017 to be a year of books, among other wonderfulness. To kick things off, the first book I read so far this year is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).

I admit, I was drawn to this book because of the cover and because it’s by Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors.

SPOILER ALERT

The book is told from the perspective of Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, one of the few surviving members of the Blackwood family. She lives in an old, large house with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. There used to be more members of the Blackwood family, but she poisoned her family’s sugar with arsenic to punish them when she was sent to her room without supper. Her sister survived because she does not take sugar (and that is the reason why Merricat poisoned the sugar and not something else) and her Uncle Julian only took a small amount.

The plot largely centers around the daily routine of Merricat and her family and their relationships with the other characters. The most fascinating part of the narrative is Merricat herself – she shows no remorse for having killed her family, and yet she respects  various spaces and objects that belonged to them, even though they are deceased ( for example, after her Uncle Julian dies, she still does not enter his room, insisting that she is not allowed). As a reader, my reaction to Merricat was at times, “She’s crazy” and “She’s a brat,” but I still found myself happy that she and her sister were happy at the end of the story. I feel like it’s an odd reaction to have given how horrible Merricat is as an individual, but that’s part of the beauty of Jackson’s writing: she doesn’t just invite you into the psyche of a character, she thrusts you in, allowing the reader to become intimate with the character by helping to detach the reader from their own preconceptions to understand the world of the story through the character’s eyes.

Now, onto the next book!

Thoughts While Waiting For A Plane

I do not like to fly.

That statement might seem odd coming from someone who regularly flies, but it is the truth. I do not enjoy flying. In fact, I find the whole act mildly unnerving.

Even before going through security, before checking in for my flight, even before going to the airport I have to be prepared. This process involves making sure there are no liquids in my carry-on bags, except for the 3.4 ounces or less ones in the quart-sized, zip-top bag that I carefully place in either my purse or an outside pocket of my backpack for easier access. I select which items will go in each carry-on bag – decisions that might not seem difficult to make, but for someone who would prefer to have all of their items next to them or under the seat in front of them, it is strategic planning.

I have to make sure to take off my shoes, remove anything in my pockets, and arrange my items in the sullen, gray plastic bins so that everything is visible. I wait to go through the scanner, not fulling knowing where the lines start and who was first, only going through the motions so as not to displease the disgruntled TSA agents. After patting down my wrists, my legs, my waist, or whatever area may have shown up on the scanner due to my preference for looser clothes, I retrieve my things and return the bins to their proper place to await another person’s items.

As I sit in the terminal reflecting on their and other airport procedures and processes, I listen to the coughs, stifles, sounds of crying babies, text tones, and conversations I am surrounded by. I am a germaphobe, and yet I am about to travel for the next few hours with nothing but recycled air circulating throughout the cabin. I resist the urge to envision the types of miasma that inhabit the air and the people they originated from. I contain my anxiety as I am engulfed by strangers.

I do not like most people, another truth that some might find odd given my seemingly outgoing personality. The key word is seemingly. I enjoy being alone, by myself, and away from the general public. I avoid public transportation as much as possible because of this.

Still, I put myself through the ordeal of flying because I love to travel. I like going to a destination I have never been before, or one that I have and am looking forward to returning to. As a teenager, I did not want to get married when I grew up; I wanted to travel.

So, yeah, I do not like to fly. I continue to fly, however, because it is a ritual that results in something that I love: adventure.

Adventure awaits…after the airtime.

 

 

One Rainy Day

Today is a rainy Friday morning, two weeks from the end of the semester. I am standing in from of my First Year Writing class, knowing that they realize full well that it’s a rainy Friday morning, two weeks from the end of the semester.

We are in the Personal Narrative Unit, the one where they can pick whatever they want to write about so long as they are able to show the before, during, and after of the experience/event and show why the experience was significant to them in some way. I do not have a formal lesson set out for the day, which is no surprise, so I decide the weather is a fitting excuse to show the twenty minute clip from J. K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech, the video they will need to watch to complete an extra credit opportunity I am giving them, an opportunity almost all of them need. For me, showing the video is an opportunity for twenty minutes of captive attention that will coincide nicely with the end of class.

I show the video because Rowling’s speech can be seen as a Personal Narrative where she discusses more than one experience/event and the impact on her life. Although my students only have to focus on one experience/event that is important to them, Rowling’s speech demonstrates the concepts we talk about in Personal Narrative: showing the significance through use of examples; who they are before, during, and after the experience; and, ultimately, the takeaway from the experience.

As they are watching the video, I too listen and watch the video. I am struck by Rowling’s mention of people who either peer into the metaphorical cage, unafraid of what they might see, or who turn away, too afraid to find out. Rowling’s praise of the power of imagination likewise impresses upon me, and combined with the other part of her speech, I am left mulling over the recent events in my life.

Approximately one year ago I left substitute teaching and the other positions I held in school districts that I had grown to think of as a hybrid between the space where I moved towards becoming an adult and my post-college purgatory. I left to end the year in another school district working as a Special Education Para-Educator, a job that would not only round out my experiences in Education but also mean a daily paycheck.

Approximately one year ago was also when my dad lost the job he held for as long as I could remember. In the loss of his job, my family lost our quasi-stable sense of security that was replaced by the sobering reality that the lifestyle we knew and were accustomed had turned into a ghost – a shadow, a specter attached to each of our lives.

Lastly, approximately one year ago was when I made the decision to attend the University of New Hampshire to pursue my graduate degree in English Literature. This decision meant that I would have to move up to New Hampshire to be closer to school, leaving my parents and the Boston area for the rural setting of the granite state. A state away and a world apart.

Approximately one year later I am sitting watching J. K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech, and I realize that I veil the past. Not hide. Not escape. Veil. I cover the past – my past – with the creation of this new life. New location, new friends, new experiences. This newness makes it easy to mask the past because this newness provides ample opportunities for distractions. Romantic interests, classwork, scholarship, even texting are each shiny lights that help lead me away from the past.

As I sit listing to Rowling’s words, I begin to register that I simply did not come to this new place in my life; I arrived here through experiences that span beyond approximately one year ago. Experiences where I not only peered into those dark cages, but also extended a hand to those stuck inside, hoping for someone to extend a hand to me.

The power of imagination was another topic that I was struck by in Rowling’s speech. I am a writer, but I am not the writer I used to be. Once I wrote for both others and for myself, creating worlds and narrations that were drafted because I wished to engage in the craft of writing. But in this new life of mine I feel I have become a passive writer, skillfully composing works because they are required of me instead of out of the enjoyment of allowing my unbridled imagination to seize my fingers and cast my attention into the abyss of inspiration.

Where is that individual I remember being? Did I shove her in one of the moving boxes neatly labeled with the contents inside and conveniently forgot to unpack her? Did I think I could erase her by becoming a new self in this new setting? Or worse, did I cut her up, using only those fragments I thought would look best with the new image I was creating?

Perhaps none of those possibilities. Perhaps she is shackled inside me, wanting to be set free from her cage. All the while I dangle the key in front of her – painfully, tauntingly – until a time when the pushes and pulls around me see appropriate to unchain her, one link at a time so as not to become overwhelming.

Today I choose to begin the process of unchaining her. As I write this, the key starts to turn and her wrists slowly move.

 

Who Do We Write For? (Project Thankful: Reason #231)

A question recently came up in class: who do we write for?  Do we start off writing for ourselves, without an audience in mind?  Or, do we start off with an audience in mind?

I’m studying Composition Theory as part of one of my classes to help me with the duties of being a Teaching Assistant (TA); namely, approaching student writing and talking about the writing process with students.  One of the readings the teacher assigned us was Peter Elbow’s piece, “Closing My Eyes as I Speak” where he talks about “writer-based prose” versus “reader-based prose” in regards to audience.  The teacher opened up the discussion to the class, asking us about our own writing processes and if we write with or without an audience in mind.

One student raised their hand, saying “I do have to write with an audience in mind because that raises the bar for my writing.”

Another student raised their hand: “I’m the total opposite.  I write as discovery, not having an audience in mind.  My writing is my discovery process, it’s for me and it’s for me to share with others.”

The first student responded, “Yeah, but if you’re just writing for yourself, isn’t that just like masturbation?” *Uncomfortable laughter from class* “No, I mean, you’re just writing for your own pleasure, not necessarily for anyone else.”

For me with this blog, my writing has taken on a transformative quality since the inception of this blog.  At first, I was writing for others, trying to draw people’s attention to my writing at the time.  Yet, my writing itself changed as my identity as a writer changed as well as the genre of writing I am interested in.  Today, I view this blog as a blog of self-discovery, an archive of the changes that have taken place along the way.

So, who do we write for?  Do we write for ourselves, as some form of discovery process, or do we write for others?  And how does that impact the quality and content of our writing?

 

 

 

Beyond the Buildings: Project Thankful #230

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Going off of what I said in “Still September?” is the above picture.  See, on my campus there are alcoves, hidden sanctuaries dotted throughout the campus where individuals can sit, away from the human highways of the pavement and sidewalks.  This picture was taken looking up from one such alcove, a stone bench not even 100 feet away from my building.  The bench was in a cluster of trees, providing not only shade, but protection from the stress that occupied my psyche.

I looked up, and I was humbled.  There is a pressure that comes with being a graduate student and being a teacher of having to perform in the classroom as proof of the importance of one’s existence.  Looking up from my momentary sanctuary, it struck me that I was wasting my energy attempting to appeal to this need to perform.  My existence is not a performance; it’s rooted in the primordial, grounded in a foundation that pre-exists the buildings I inhabit.

It’s vital to remember the individual, the existence that transcends the name on the roster, the student in the desk, and the teacher in the classroom.