Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, My Edward!

For those of you who are not Twi-hards and who would not know, the phrase OME has long dominated the Twilight fan sites as an appropriate substitution for OMG.  Yes, feel fee to roll your eyes (I do.) Though Breaking Dawn managed to permanently quell my obsession, far be it from me to pass up the opportunity to post, now that Summit has released the film.

Yes, I stayed up until midnight with other fans to be one of the first to get my hands on Breaking Dawn, but I did not do the same for the movie.  I do have plans to see it soon, but this time, I can wait. This decision has nothing to do with that wet blanket, that rain on my pseudo-teenage thrill parade,  Breaking Dawn; it has much more to do with my own innate nerdiness.

As is true of nerdom, I usually prefer books to movies.  And, what red-blooded female can deny that the interest fueled by the Twilight series is generated by none other than superlover Edward Cullen? Edward, as a character, manages to be the every(dream)man to everywoman.  So how did Stephenie Meyer manage to create a character that women of all ages and from all walks of life find so finger-lickin' good? (Thus begins my doctoral dissertation)

I'm going to start out by setting aside the obvious Edward assets: the hair, the wealth, the six-pack, the hot taste in cars, the great clothes.  (At this point, I could be describing Jack-the-Ripper and I'd already be in love.)  But no, the character of Edward does not stop there. Part of what really hooks the womenfolk are his deeper qualities (guys, take note).  Edward always makes Bella feel beautiful, even if she's wearing holey sweats and has spinach lodged in her front teeth.  He always places Bella's well-being at the top of his priorities.  He would never forget Bella's birthday.  He is chivalrous, traditional, and respectful.  He is intellectual and talented.  He has smooth lines, smoother moves, and a crooked smile to boot. However,  I submit that even those traits are not the core of Edward Cullen's appeal.

What makes Edward truly irresistable (and where my problem with the movie lies) is found in what the readers do not know about him.  While developing the character of Edward, Meyer merely throws readers bits and pieces to hint at his past.  She leaves him just enough of a tabula rosa that readers can make of Edward Cullen, anything they want.  He is mysterious and just dangerous enough.  The beauty of reading a character like Edward is that the reader can assign to him any preference in music, any taste in clothes, any daring past she desires.  (My Edward was somrthiing of an unrequieted lover.)  In short, the reader can mold him into her custom lover (something we have been trying, with little headway, to do to our husbands for years.)

I do not want to suggest that Rob Pattinson was not a ideal actor to play Edward or that I would cast anyone else in his stead.  The difficulty is that he is mortal and, as such, has defined personality traits and physical qualities. The only analogy I can use to describe my hang up with Twilight in  movie form relates to Plato's Allegory of the Cave in which Plato describes the "form" and the "thing."  The "form" is god's perfect idea; the "thing" is mankind's removed, imperfect interpretation. In the case of Edward, Meyer has created the "form" and Rob Pattinson, I fear,  is the "thing."  (My apologies, Rob.)

And so, on that note, I can wait to see, but cannot completely resist, the movie.  I will save myself the throngs of teenage girls and the long wait in line until I have time to decide whether or not Rob Pattinson is my dream man.  I could have taught him in high school, so that's one strike right there (one I was able to overlook while reading Twilight.)  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mothers' Unofficial Day

Mothers are the guiltiest people in the world.  We blame ourselves for practically everything.  If our child has a cold, it's because we didn't bundle him tightly enough or give him enough multi-vitamins last week.  If our child has a milk allergy, it must be because we fed her dairy at too young an age or because we ate too much ice cream when we were pregnant.  It's true; there is no end to the amount of blame mothers heap upon themselves for everything that goes wrong. It's ludicrous when you think about it.

The irony is that everybody lets us take the blame.  Modern psychology dictates that people are the physiological and psychogical product of their parents. Criminals and sociopaths are more than happy to twist that logic and shift the blame to their upbringing.  Time and again they sing the song of neglect and abuse as an excuse for their excerable behavior.

Not to be misunderstood, I don't want to diminish the role of the mother or to underplay the importance of her impact in the lives of her children.  It's just that so often mothers live an existance of paranoia and guilt.  It seems to me that the very best mothers are those who feel the worst about the way that they have raised their children.  They forever lament, "If only I  had.  .  .  my child might be happier/ more secure/ more productive."  How ironic that the truly negligent mothers are those who never feel guilty about and are constantly defensive of their parenting.

OK, so maybe you fed your kids mini-donuts before sending them to school today, and maybe one your son's socks was navy and the other was black, but it's time to let that go.  I assert that for the rest of the day all of the good mothers who know they try their hardest but fall short of perfection sit back,  take a much-needed deep breath and just for a moment, let go of the guilt and fear.  Don't focus on your three-year-old who still has accidents, or your son who bloodied another kid's nose on the playground last week.  Think about those great and simple moments when you didn't even have to remind your son to share his toy with his younger brother or when your daughter thought to have you help her bake cookies for a sick neighbor. You gave them that, too.  

For one moment think of all that has gone right and pat yourself on the back.  You deserve it!  Please share some great motherly moments.  What better way to celebrate?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sexiest Words in the English Language

My AP biology teacher always told her students how she thought "plasmodesmata" was the sexiest sounding word in the English language.  Of course, if you are into biology and know what plasmodesmata actually are, then you know her opinion was based on the sound of the word alone.

Pulitzer prize winning poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath, maintained that the most euphonic word in the English language is "syphilis."  Plath, too,  was obviously basing her opinion on sound alone.  Repeat it outloud a few times and you will see where she was coming from  (if you can ignore the connotation and if your significant other isn't within earshot).  I don't think syphilis counts,  however, because "euphonic" and "sexy" may or may not be synonyms depending on personal taste.

I submit that the sexiest words in the English language are officially, "You take it easy tonight, Hon.  I'll put the kids to bed."  I have a big smile on my face right now just thinking about them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reconsidering Poetry

I know I have been remiss in posting anything other than a couple of twinkies for well over a month now. It is not for lack of ambition or lack of ideas, but more for lack of time. It is very difficult to find the time, not so much for the writing, but for the amount of editing I do! I am obsessed with punctuation which is simultaneously a curse and a blessing. In short, forgive my flaky blogging and I promise I will continue to post when I can slide it in.

For those who are familiar with my blog, you know that I write a lot on the topic of teaching English and about the literature taught in English courses. I love to talk about it and currently, have very little outlet except for you, dear reader. So, I beg your pardon, while I indulge myself, once again.

In October, National Poetry Day came and went. I was happy to find that Peterman posted about it and I considered posting about it myself though other obligations took precedence. Suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure that National Talk Like a Pirate Day recieved more attention than National Poetry Day. Not to diminish Talk Like a Pirate Day in any way, but I wish the American public would reconsider poetry.

I think poetry recieves a generally bad reputation for a couple of reasons. The first, the people who supposedly "read" it and "write" it. OK, I admit I went through a really pretentious stage in college when I would go to the "Dog and Duck" (the local coffee shop) and listen to the owner of the place read Shakespeare. He read with a goofy inflection and, as pretentious as I was then, even I knew that the girl wearing the black lace gloves and velvet cloak wasn't really as close to swooning in ecstacy as her ardent sighs might lead one to believe.

Though Shakespeare's words are lovely, that particular reading was hideous though instrumental in giving me a much needed slap before I, too, donned a pair of lace gloves. Yes, it was crap and, as such, very detestable (not to mention, my tolerance for it was probably 95% higher than the average non-nerd's).

I can't blame people for steering clear of these kind of scenes. But, I submit, not all poetry is as old as Shakespeare and, for certain, none of it should be mangled by the sort of linguistic stylings I witnessed that night.

Despite the beatniks and wierdos who have given poetry a negative stereotype, I think it is time for the public to reconsider poetry. Many modern poets, like former Utah Poet Laureat, David Lee, embrace the vernacular and culture of common people while dealing with themes every bit as poignant as Shakespeare or Milton.

Which brings me to the next major barrier the general public has with poetry: they just don't "get it." Poetry, like most worthwhile pursuits, demands some knowledge and some exertion to befully appreciated. How many students have been required to read and comment on a poem in a text book? (If you took high school English you should be probably be raising your hand right now.) Don't get me wrong, I love many of the poems included in high school anthologies: e.e. cummings, "in just," Shakespeare's, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?" Dylan Thomas', "Fern Hill," and Elizabeth Bishop's, "The Fish." All are wonderful poetic specimens and I am glad to know they are still taught in the classroom. But are they really? Do the students silently read poetry to themselves instead of out loud as it is intended? Does the teacher share the relish of the the words, . . ."when the world is mud-luscious and the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee. . ."? Or do the students just answer, in complete sentences, canned questions about why the balloonman is lame?"

Assignments like that are lame (but still not as bad as the teacher who chooses to gloss over the whole unit by playing an Alanis Morrisette song and talking about its "literary merit") and I think largely responsible for volume of detestation people associate with poetry. I will concede; very few high school teachers do poetry justice (mostly because they "don't get it" either- but that's a secret.)

Poetry is an ancient and increaslingly rare form of art. You don't think so? Try to conjur the name of one living poet. Try to consider one poem you have read that was written in the last decade. IF you can do so, you are certainly in the minority.

Monarchs and statesmen have long known the power of the poem. Shakepeare's most famous patron was Queen Elizabeth. Even in our modern world, the United States always has a congressional poet on hand to write when the occassion requires it, so, for all of its value why is it a dying form of art?

I think the answer lies in the question so many of my students have asked me, "Why do we have to learn about _____________ (poetry/ Shakespeare/ sentence diagrams. . . you get the idea)? I'm never going to use it. I'm going to be a ____________( porn star/ computer game programmer/ mechanic. . ." It seems to me that the entire educational system is setup to try to appease this question. The emphasis of public education is no longer simply to open doors and horizons of knowledge. It has turned into a way to make a person lucrative; a financial asset.

While it is very valuable to produce a trained and highly efficient work force, I think that sometimes we lose focus on the most significant role of education: to make us better, more compassionate people; to help us find commonality and value in our human experience. As the focus of education shifts to standarized testing and proficiency testing, we are losing that which is most vauable of all: our humanity and individuality. Perhaps, it is time to realize what the monarchs and statesmen have long known: people need poetry.

e.e. cummings said it best:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hoe and then) they
said their nevers and they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt for forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

Thank you, Mr. Cummings. My sentiments exactly!