It’s the end of the world as we know it…

or, Ten Things I Love Regarding the Apocalypse and/or Alternative Civilization Societies.

The Victorians in Britain were known for their sensational fiction and ghost stories. Why were these tales so popular during the writers’ lifetimes? The writing reflected an anxiety about the culture: one could be haunted by some secret sin, and a ghost could seek revenge for that well-hidden transgression. Additionally, Victorians greatly valued domesticity, and women were idealized as angels of the home. A haunted house was the embodiment of insecrurities plaguing those places where one should feel safest.

In the same way, I think a lot of texts in current popular culture regarding the apocalypse or some futuristic post-civilization society reflect the fear in America (or maybe even the West) today. Since the Cold War, we’ve feared nuclear attack and the end of the world. Technology is changing so quickly that it’s impossible to know where our culture’s dependency on  technology and innovation will be even a year from now. Rapid change brings out anxieties and fears: will we get to a point where technology utterly destroys? Where we devolve into a society where survivial is our only concern?

This seems to be a trend, and one that I’m particularly interested in, although I didn’t really understand my own fascination with it until I sat down to write this list (with actual pen and paper on an old-fashioned wooden desk–shocker!). In the past few years, a lot of the books/movies/TV shows that I’ve really enjoyed have depicted this theme, and I decided it would be fun to make a list of my favorite texts involving the apocalypse. 🙂 [Note: the order of this list is only the order in which I thought of them.]

Muse-Absolution20031. Absolution, Muse. Their best album (out of an incredible catalog).  [Side note: I haven’t bought or even heard their newest album, which came out last week. That album may nullify this point.] I would even argue that this is one of the greatest albums in the history of music. Yeah, it’s that good. This album from a trio of conspiracy theorists/musicians is all about the apocalypse. Examples:

  • from “Apocalypse Please”: “It’s time we saw a miracle / Come on, it’s time for something biblical/ [ . . . ] This is the end of the world”
  • from “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist,” one of the last tracks on the album: “And I know the moment’s near / There’s nothing you can do / Look through a faithless eye / Are you afraid to die?”

2. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. An incredible, haunting, sparse novel about a man and his son fighting for survival in post-apocalpytic America. Beautiful in its darkness and tragedy.

jericho3. Jericho. A TV show cancelled after a cliffhanger first season, brought back after outraged fans protested, and cancelled again for good after a disappointing, short second season. The setting is a small Kansas town filled with tenacious, ingenius residents who manage to hold onto the remnants of civilization and humanity after most of the major cities in the United States are annihilated by hydrogen bombs. I spent part of last weekend rewatching some of season one when I wasn’t writing papers or grading or planning or anything responsible.

4. I Am Legend, a book by Richard Matheson, and several movies. The book and the most recent film starring Will Smith are the ones I am acquainted with, and the stories are so vastly different that they should be considered separate texts. Essentially, each is the store of the last man left alive (in the movie, it’s NYC, and I don’t remember the location of the book). He has a strange resistance to the vampiric disease that has infected every other human and most animals. He devotes his life to searching for the cause and the cure. The book and the movie each end in a vastly different way. And each is stark and disturbing in its own way.

giver5. The Giver, Lois Lowry. A classic children’s book about a society of people whose lives are utterly conformed to the set laws of society. A boy named Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, and he alone knows the pain, triumph, and love of society, a terrifying and weighty existence. Be sure to read the sequels Gathering Blue and The Messenger. The trio is a great commentary on the importance of both love and pain.

specials6. The Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld. With its own vocabulary and awesome technology like hoverboards, these books about a futuristic, post-Rusties (a.k.a – us) society are sometimes fun and often thought-provoking. The series deals with some of the same issues as The Giver–what happens when society seeks to conform an entire race? What happens when a select group refuses to conform? (Also–check out the cover to Specials to the left–they have these awesome tattoos called “flash tattoos” that sound painful and super awesome at the same time.)

7. Independence Day. I like films with Will Smith and the apocalypse, apparently. An alien race trying to destroy America + Will Smith + super-nerdy Jeff Goldblum? What’s not to love, really?

8. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” R.E.M. “…and I feel fine.” Really…why worry? 🙂

9. The Host, Stephenie Meyer. Really, how could I not include my favorite Meyer book? The whole world (and many other planets in far-off galaxies) has been taken over by a mild, peaceful race of souls who end all wars and violence and set up a calm and gentle society. With two problems: some humans have escape capture and are carefully hidden, while other humans refuse to succumb to the sould placed within their bodies. In my opinion, this is Meyer’s best work, even if it is slow-moving at first.

10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. What happens when we begin to fear knowledge rather than revere it? This happens. Firefighters set fires to destroy books rather than putting fires out. Men hide, secretly memorizing the words of great philosophers and writers, so their words will not be lost forever. And one man realizes the value of knowledge and thinking for oneself and attempts to break away from the society that is so binding and restrictive.

“Mess of Me”

Switchfoot’s new album was supposed to have been released in August/September. Because they’re producing it on their own, and are dedicated to releasing their best album yet, it’s been pushed back several times, and the new release date is November 10. I’m saddened by this because it’s been three years since we’ve gotten a whole album’s worth of new Switchfoot; however, I can wait a little longer if they promise it’s going to be the best yet. 🙂

They’ve done some fun things to get fans ready for the album, though. They set up a scavenger hunt of sorts through Twitter, where they hid copies (or had fans hide copies) of their first single “Mess of Me” around the world. They also debuted a video for “Mess of Me” two days ago, featuring footage from their last tour.

I’m sitting at the branch library in Greer, attempting to watch the video on YouTube for the first time. This computer takes decades to buffer, however, so I’m really only getting the song in short clips with long pauses in the middle. However, although this is a crappy first experience with the song, I’ve gotta say that what I’m hearing sounds pretty darn good. I cannot wait until the album comes out, and they announce new tour dates, and I can be obsessed with new Switchfoot music once again.

And now, for your listening and viewing pleasure…”Mess of Me”:

Three Weeks In…

…and I’ve learned a good bit about teaching. Some days, I leave class invigorated, sure that I’m changing the world, teaching my students things they’ve never heard before, encouraging them to expand their minds. Other days, I walk out of class dejected, pondering the vacant looks on their faces, with eyes glazed over, as they struggle to stay awake.

Most days, however, I leave class grateful for this opportunity, encouraged by knowing that it’s a process, and my students and I have all semester together to explore the world of writing.

I have learned a few important things, though:

1. As much as I love grammar, even I can’t make subject/verb agreement exciting at 8:00 in the morning.

2. I cannot teach writing the exact same way to two distinctly different sets of students. I’ve done some activities in one class that I know the other class would not find interesting. I’ve asked questions and recieved vastly different responses from my two classes.

3. Bibles verses and Beatles lyrics are fantastic sources for teaching students parts of a sentence.

4. A penguin is not just an aquatic bird.

5. Just because a student has a British accent does not mean he’s actually British.

Teaching is great. Really. It’s challenging in ways I didn’t expect. It’s exhausting. It comes with a great deal of responsibility. And I’m more sure than ever that it’s what I want to do the rest of my life.

Ain’t I a Woman?

Last Saturday, I was at a firefighter competition in North Charleston, and I overheard an interesting conversation. A firefighter had just competed in a hand pump competition with a group of other firefighters. The goal was to pump as much water from a fire hose using only brute strength. It’s hard, vigorous labor that leaves the firefighters covered in sweat after mere seconds.

After his team competed, this man was talking to his wife. He mentioned that they’d pumped water so many feet, and were only a few feet off the lead. He remarked that they’d accomplished this with two women on the team (a team has 9-10 people).

His wife reprimanded him sharply, accusing him of being sexist with just one icy-toned “Don’t even.” He tried to explain: “No, you didn’t see. The pump was lifting her off the ground.” He remained calm and levelheaded, while his wife bitterly argued, “She was jumping. She was jumping.”

The husband aptly changed the subject, and I turned my attention elsewhere, lest I make some comment or gesture that would inadvertenly reveal my sudden anger. This woman’s attitude, like so many other women’s, is the reason feminism is perceived as a dirty word by many. Women fight losing, empty, irrelevent battles. This woman, standing in the shade in her designer sunglasses, next to her infant in a stroller, had no right to fight this battle. Had she been one of the two women in that round of the competition, her remarks would have been appropriate, even welcomed. But her husband, involved as he was in the competition, observing the women on his team, was probably right. Women are not physically as strong as men, as a general rule. There are, of course, exceptions, but I have no problem admitting that I am physically weaker than most men I know. This in no way makes me less of a woman.

Women will earn back so much of the respect we have lost if we can admit both our strengths and our weaknesses. Self-awareness is what makes us stronger, not beligerently fighting to be seen as identical to men–when we aren’t. Fighting for equal pay for women who do the same job as men? Fighting for value and self-worth, so that women are no longer seen as property? I can get behind those issues. Fighting to prove that our muscles can be as big as a man’s? Ridiculous.

I admire the women who are trained and passionate enough to participate in such a physically exhausting competition. My strength is not there, and I know that. I’m fine watching from a distance, or letting a man carry a heavy box for me. As long as I am concentrating on doing the very best with areas where I’m talented, I can admit my imperfections and weaknesses. And is that not the way God designed us to be?

Another incident, previous to this one, had me thinking along those same lines even earlier that morning. On the way to Charleston that morning, that irritatingly poppy Katy Perry song “Hot N Cold” came on the radio. (And I won’t even discuss the bad image she’s given women.) While listening, I realized one of the reasons I used to be so against so much music by female artists. The music I was generally exposed to–girl power music on Top 40 stations–is crap. It’s complaining about bad boyfriends or men who left or lamenting boys who’ll never notice the girl. Katy Perry is accusing men of being indecisive and uncommitted? Is that not the very thing men often accuse us of being?

I am emotional and indecisive. I’m sure I send crazy mixed signals when I’m confused and unsure. But I think the reason men are confused by us, or are uncommitted, is because we expect too little of them. Where feminism has gone wrong is in teaching women to think they’re better than men instead of teaching women to be fully who they were intended to be–distinctly different, but not inferior.

We lament that men are lazy, that they don’t pursue us. We expect them to let us down. They’re human; they will, just as we will disappoint them on occasion. As long as we continue to be desperately searching for romance in any and eery man who enters our lives, whil simultaneously acting superior and degrading them, I think we’ll continue to be bitter and discouraged. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy–expect things to go horribly awry, and they will. But perhaps if we stop expecting men to let us down, and we start expecting them to be strong leaders, we won’t be disappointed as often.

We shed what was left of our summer skin.

Back in May, I posted a to-do list for my summer. I expected my summer to unofficially end on August 31, the day classes started back at Converse. Instead, on August 18, I found out I’d be teaching developmental writing at NGU, and every bit of  free time I’ve had since then has been spent preparing for class or grading papers.

Nonetheless, September is here. School is back in session at both NGU and Converse, and it even feels like fall outside (at least in the mornings), although summer doesn’t officially end for three more weeks. It thus seems appropriate to wrap up my summer to-do list.

My goals:

1. Survive summer school. Done! History of the English Language was an incredible learning experience for me. I had to be more disciplined and focused than usual because I couldn’t rely on catching up in the classroom. I also learned a lot of material about the history of England (and the language, of course), and I learned about why we pronounce or spell words certain ways. It was really great. And I did well in the class, too. 🙂

2. Get my face rocked off. Most definitely. I’ve seen Civil Twilight three times (yay!) and the Winter Sounds twice. Of course, there was The Fray in June in Charlotte, which was phenomenal, and I met Jon Foreman after the Fiction Family show in Asheville. There’s still more to come, too: Muse’s new album is released in less than two weeks; Switchfoot’s new album comes out in November; Civil Twilight is playing Fall for Greenville (and we’re considering a road trip the next day to see them play in Nashville); and the Muse/U2 show is 29 days away!

3. Read voraciously. Of the four books I’d intended to read, I manged three of them: V for Vendetta, The Scarlett Letter, and the fourth volume of the Buffy comic books. Underworld, with its 800+ pages, which I attempted to start during summer school, proved to be too much of a challenge, however. Perhaps later. I read plenty of other smaller books, though.

4. Watch TV. We did indeed finish Angel early in the summer. And while I haven’t managed any of Lost yet, I did introduce Harvin to M*A*S*H, and I watched all of season 7 of The Golden Girls.

5. Play outside. Looking back, I don’t think I did enough of this. Sure, I caught fireflies with the Leisters at Look-Up one night, and I spent a few lunch breaks sitting in the grass with a book, and we finally played on a swingset in Salem, MA, but I could have played outside more. Autumn is almost here, though, and it’s my favorite outside-time-of-the-year. I can at least enjoy some fresh air when I drive with my window down.

6. Have a great birthday. Of course! My brother came to visit me for the first time, and he spent the night. Chris also came up for a few days. On my birthday, Berry, Chris, Harvin, and I went to P.F. Chang’s for dinner and then to a frozen yogurt place downtown called Blueberry Frog. Fun! Delightful! Then, the day after my birthday, I met Jon Foreman after the Fiction Family concert. Just in case I haven’t mentioned that enough yet. 🙂

7. Be consistently on time to work. Yep. I think I was only late one day, and it was only by about three minutes (thank you, slow drivers on 101). It’s continued into the semester, too, even though I have to be here earlier (8:00 on MWF, and earlier than that since I’m teaching an 8:00 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Go me for being punctual.

8. See the ocean again. Done. I went to Myrtle Beach for the state firefighters’ convention in July, and our hotel was right on the beach. Then, in Massachusetts, we saw the harbor in both Boston and Salem. That’s the North Atlantic, you know. It seems so much cooler than what we have in SC.

9. Write letters. Well, okay, I sent some postcards from Boston–to my parents, my brother, my grandmother, and Naomi. I could have done more, but it’s a start.

10. TRAVEL! Have I mentioned Boston yet? The most incredible, epic road trip ever? Yeah, I did that. 🙂

So there we are. It was a great summer–productive, enlightening, adventuresome. All that any girl could ask for. Now, autumn is quickly approaching, and I’m completely wrapped up in the world of academia. I’m teaching, dealing with students in the library, and taking my own classes. And I’m enjoying just about every minute of it. It’s gonna be a crazy semester!

August Books

1. Anne of the Island, L. M. Montgomery. The 3rd book in the series. My favorite, I think. Anne and Gilbert finally get together. 🙂

2. Rules of the Road, Joan Bauer. A very good YA novel. The prequel to Best Foot Forward, which I re-read last month after finding it on sale at a bookstore at Myrtle Beach. This book I found on sale in Salem, MA. Traveling = cheap, good Joan Buaer books.

3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. I started reading this two years ago and didn’t finish. I started again after buying my own copy (with Viggo Mortenson on the cover) at that bookstore in Salem. Had a hard time putting it down–I only did so because I was having such a great time in Boston.

4. Coming Home, Barbara Jean Hicks. It’s Christian romance, but it’s good.

5. Nature (and other selected writings), Ralph Waldo Emerson. I bought a copy of Emerson’s work at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial House in Concord, MA, because I only had anthologies with excerpts. Upon reading Nature in its entirety, I found that I actually like Emerson a lot more than I originally thought.

6. The Gammage Cup, Carol Kendall. A Newbery Honor Book from the 1940s, this fantasy is one that I re-read pretty often. It’s about a group of people called the Minnipins who outlaw five of their own for wearing colors that are too bright and for questioning the accepted history of the Minnipins. Those five outlaws then discover that a group of invaders known as the Mushrooms are looking to attack, and the save the Land Between the Mountains, where all the Minnipins live. It’s really great. 🙂

7. Water for Elephants, Sarah Gruen. A book about the circus! I really enjoyed this story about a man who joins the circus in the 1920s…except for the gratuitous sex scenes that were completely unnecessary to the plot of the story. Ugh. If it weren’t for those, this book would have been truly spectacular.

8. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin. It’s a Newbery Award winner from the 1970s. I like the premise–sixteen “heirs” are given clues to discover who killed Sam Westing. The only problem is that, even reading it as an adult, I had problems keeping track which character had what clues and who was partnered with who. It’s a lot to keep track of, which I think harms the story. Younger readers don’t have the ability to keep that focused, I don’t think. Still, it’s a fun little mystery.

9. Mary Anne and the Little Princess, Ann M. Martin. Yes, this is a Baby-Sitters Club book. I discovered a stash of them in my closet when I was digging for the bag I’d used at the Greenville Literacy Society’s booksale last year. The BSC books I’d bought then were still in the bag. I read this one.

Sadly, my book-reading ground to a screeching halt when I started teaching. I have so little free time that the only time I really get to read is a few minutes before I go to bed. At that point, I’m so tired, I can only manage a few pages. Nonetheless, this brings my total for the year to 75. I have 15 between the syllabi for the two classes I’m taking, so if I can only manage ten outside of class over the next few months, I’ll have my 100 for the year!