“We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”

“Do you love me?”

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!”

“What do you mean?” Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he had anticipated.

“Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory.

“And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language. You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes,'” his mother said.

“Or,” his father suggested, “‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly ‘Yes.'”

“Do you understand why it’s inappropriate to use a word like ‘love’?” Mother asked.

Jonas nodded. “Yes, thank you, I do,” he replied slowly.

It was the first lie to his parents.

* * *

This excerpt from The Giver by Lois Lowry comes just after Jonas receives a memory of Christmas and family. It’s the first time he’s ever experienced real love, and it transforms him. This passage gives me chills–to think that such a society could exist with the absence of love.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of this book, I’ll give you a brief summary. This novel takes place in a dystopian society in which every citizen conforms to the same concept of Sameness. As each child approaches the Ceremony of Twelve, he or she is given an assignment–a career choice, if you will, although a committee decides for each child based on his or her aptitude and interests. Jonas is chosen as the Receiver of Memories. He alone will receive the collective memory of society (collective unconscious, anyone?). He must carry the burden of all the emotions–happiness, love, pain, fear. He experiences poverty, war, hunger, sunshine, snow, Christmas, family, joy. No one else in the community ever knows that such extremes existed.

This is a world with color. Without art. Without music.

Without love.

It’s chilling in its portrayal. The novel beautifully explores notions of freedom. It made me realize that freedom of choice–in what I’ll wear, in where I’ll go to school, in whom I’ll marry–is something I often take for granted. What if that choice were taken away from me? Would I miss choice if I’d grown up without it?

I re-read this book this week because I was working on a paper for adolescent literature on how to use literature to teach social justice to secondary students. I chose this book and The Knife of Never Letting Go as examples of dystopian literature that can be used in the classroom. Dystopian literature is so intriguing and thought-provoking because it shows the extremes to which society could go if preventative action isn’t taken. Will we fight against those who remove choice? Will we fight for the oppressed? Can we make a change and avoid a bleak future?

Something to think about.

Get excited.

A list of things that I’m super excited about right now:

1) I applied to the M.A. in English program at Gardner-Webb University…to start in January (hopefully, with Coa!). It seems like such a sudden change, but I’ve known for months now that the M.A.T. program isn’t right for me. I don’t want to teach high school, and the student teaching and certification progress to do that would be a waste of my time and energy. With the M.A., I can take just English classes (yay!), write a thesis, begin teaching full-time at the college level (hopefully!), and eventually decide where and in what concentration to get my Ph.D. I applied to G-W last week, and I’m working on getting the rest of my documentation in. Then, I’ll work on financial aid. With the peace I feel about this decision, I’ll be shocked if everything doesn’t work out perfectly.

2) Next week is Thanksgiving Break! It’s going to be wonderful to have a few days off from work and school. I’m going to Sullivan’s Island with Chris on Wednesday (and eating at Poe’s Tavern!); Thursday is Thanksgiving Day with my family; Friday, my family is going shopping in Charleston; and Sunday is a surprise for my mom (that you’ll all hear about soon)!

3) On Tuesday, I got my tickets to see Switchfoot at the Orange Peel on December 4! They’ll be playing the entire Hello Hurricane album from start to finish, plus some “old favorites” and “a few surprises”! YAY!

4) The end of the semester fast approaches. I’m finishing up final projects, grading my students’ final essays, and looking to Dec. 7 with mixed feelings. I’ll give my last final exam that day and take my last final exam at Converse. On that day, I’ll officially finish my first semester of teaching college English, which has been marvelous and challenging, and I’ll also officially end my academic career at Converse after a year and a half. I’ll definitely miss my very first students, and I’ll also probably miss the people and experiences I’ve had at Converse. But, alas, life continues on.

5) This morning, Michele, Harvin, and I had a discussion about Christmas. Right now, we’re planning a little trip. We’ll all drive up to Pennsylvania the weekend before Christmas, stay a few days, take a day-trip into New York City, and then we’ll leave Michele up there for Christmas with her family while we drive back home in time to get back to our families for Christmas. It looks like I’ll be heading back up north for the second time this year! I’ll see new states, and I’ll be in NYC at Christmastime! It’s gonna be amazing, and I hope we can make it work.

So there we are. Changes, adventures, life. 🙂

“You can’t silence my love.”

hello hurricaneFriday afternoon, I found a medium flat-rate box in the mail with a return address of San Carlos, CA. Inside, encased in bubble wrap (that was quickly tossed aside) was the deluxe edition of the Switchfoot album Hello Hurricane–four days before the official release date (today!). The 84-page hardcover book contained lyrics, notes, and a story written by Jon Foreman about the album; photos of the band on tour, in-studio, and surfing; a full-size poster; a DVD detailing the making of the album, as well as live recordings; a CD of alternate mixes; and the 12-track album, the first album full of new material Switchfoot has released in nearly three years.

Before I listened to the album in its entirety, I had only listened to the song “Mess of Me” once. I wanted to wait and experience the music only when I had the CD in my hand, when I could read the lyrics as I heard them, when my focus could be almost totally on the music (which explains why I almost forgot about the cookies I was baking at the time).

I want to proclaim that this album is their best yet, and although I’ve initially believed that about every album, this one actually does blow my mind in how incredible the music is. The reason why Switchfoot is my favorite band is evident on this album: the music always meets me where I am. As my life evolves, so does the music, it seems. I listen to Switchfoot and wonder how Jon Foreman makes poetry out of the jumble of thoughts in my head. How do his words always seem to reflect what’s going on in my heart?

This album reveals the cycle of one’s life, or even one’s day. “Needle and Haystack Life,” the opening track, greets the new day, while “Red Eyes” seeks the rest that comes with hoping for a new beginning after the night is over. The progression from high-energy anthems to slow, introspective songs mirrors the triumph and tragedy of life. And through it all, one purpose is revealed: the world is wrong, messed up, but we fight for love anyway. Love is what drives us, frees us, redeems us.

So, song by song, here are my impressions of the album:

Track 1: “Needle and Haystack Life”

“The world begins / With newborn skin / We are right now”: it’s a great way to open the album. The song immediately presents the theme that is so prevalent in nearly every Switchfoot song: purpose. Life is no accident, even when it’s difficult.

Track 2: “Mess of Me”

This is the first single from the album. I’m really not surprised by the choice. It’s loud and energetic–much like “Oh! Gravity.” was for the album or “Meant to Live” was for The Beautiful Letdown. Thematically, it also works with those two songs: Yeah, we screw our lives up, but we must strive for a better life. My favorite lyrics for this song: “It’s hard to free the ones you love / When you can’t forgive yourself.” Truth is right there. And this is one example of how Switchfoot is so relevant to my life: so much of what we work through in Radius, what pervades my life as a  believer, is how to be free and free others.

Track 3: “Your Love is a Song”

This third track slows the tempo down to almost a rock-ballad-like feel. After my second time through the album, I’d already pegged this one as my favorite on the album, and I was listening to it on repeat. If “Mess of Me” shows that we make mistakes, this track reminds us that redemption is available, and perfect love can conquer all. Hope is here. Thematically, this works perfectly with “Let Your Love Be Strong” from Oh! Gravity. and “Your Love is Strong” from Jon Foreman’s Spring EP. My favorite lyrics would be the whole song, so I’ll just post the chorus: “I’ve been keeping my eyes wide open / Your love is a symphony / All around me / Running through me / Your love is a melody / Underneath me / Running to me / Your love is a song.”

Track 4: “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)”

[If you’re wondering who John Perkins is, check out his foundation’s website.]

This song picks up the tempo and blends the ideas of the two preceding tracks, while adding some incredible guitar work (and other stuff). The world is fallen and messed up: “This is the sound / From the discontented mouths / Of a haunted nation / We are the voice of breaking down.” What’s the cure? “Love is the final fight / Let it rise above / Rise above / There is no song / Louder than love.” When I start a revolution, this song will be on the soundtrack. 🙂

Track 5: “Enough to Let Me Go”

This is a quiet, aimless, melancholy tune, a nice break between the epicness of tracks 4 and 6. I want to know if there’s a story behind it, but it seems to be about the difficulties of relationship. “Do you love me enough to let me go? / To let me follow through / To let me fall for you?” While love might be what we’re fighting for, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, it hurts a lot.

Track 6: “Free”

Another anthemic song from the very first notes. I cannot wait to hear this song live–it’s gonna rock so hard. And, thematically…well, duh. Freedom again. This picks up where “Mess of Me” left off–we have to be free–from the chains we lock ourselves. The chorus: “Free / Come set me free / Down on my knees / I still believe you can save me from me.” When I see them play this live, and I’m in a crowd of fans screaming these lyrics, these words are gonna come from that desperate place deep inside all of us that desires to completely overcome the sinful, enslaved nature that prevents us from living the glorious life God has designed us to live. “There’s a hole in my heart but my hope / is not in me at all / I had a dream that my chains were broken / broken open / Free.”

Track 7: “Hello Hurricane”

This song is perfect for the album title. If “Free” gets our fighting spirit riled up, “Hello Hurricane” reminds us once more what we’re fighting for. We have to fight through our sufferings through the storms of life (or, you know, hurricanes). The song echoes the apostle Paul: “Everything I have I count as loss / Everything I have is stripped away.” How do we survive? The answer is always the same: “Hello hurricane / You can’t silence my love.”

Track 8: “Always”

Jon’s notes in the book describe this as a song about love “from the upstairs perspective.” We know that we’ll have to overcome adversity, and this is yet another reassurance that we are not alone in that battle. The last few lyrics of this song are the most beautiful. The words have my crying out that this is Truth: “Hallelujah! / Every breath is a second chance / And it is always yours / And I am always yours.”

Track 9: “Bullet Soul”

This will also be on my revolution soundtrack. It will also be incredible live. It’s so intensely anthemic–I want to be a “kid with a bullet soul.” And what will we be aiming for? Of course: “I want to turn up the radiation / I want to glow in the dark / Love is the one true innovation / Love is the only art.” Anyone else feel utterly consumed?

Track 10: “Yet”

Passion and intensity can’t be all of life, though. We have to slow down, which is evident in this much slower track: “I’m losing ground and gaining speed.” Even when we know what we’re fighting for, we lose sight and get caught up in confusion. This phase won’t last, and you’ll learn from it and come out stronger: “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love / If it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough / It’s when you’re breaking down / With your insides coming out / That’s when you find out what your heart is made of / And you haven’t lost me yet.” This song is going to be such an encouragement on days when I lose sight and forget what really matters.

Track 11: “Sing It Out”

And the story continues: “I’ve lost the song of my soul tonight.” Jon’s notes describe this as an “apocalyptic hymn in first person present tense.” It begins with a lonely, ethereal, longing question. This song haunts me. This could be the story of anyone’s journey: crying out for the Father and grasping for the Truth that He is all we have. “I need your breath in my lungs tonight / Sing it out / I’m holding on / I’m holding on to you.” This is a song that’s gonna make me cry–in a good, cathartic sort of way–just when I need it most. It’s the most emotionally intense song on the album. Raw and genuine.

Track 12: “Red Eyes”

It’s fitting that the last track should reflect the close of the day when “Needle and Haystack Life”  reflected the dawn. “What are you waiting for? / The day is done.” At the end of the day, when we’re exhausted and “nowhere feels like home,” we always have the hope of the next day to look ahead to. We have to keep moving. We must have hope.  And, as a perfect way to end the song and the album, Jon’s voice echoes “In this needle and haystack life / I’ve found miracles there in your eyes / It’s no accident we’re here tonight / We are once in a lifetime.” He’s already reaching ahead, beginning the cycle over. We must join in.

The Woman in White

woman in whiteI feel as though nearly every post lately has been somehow related to academia–books or poetry I’ve read or lessons I’ve taught (and subsequently learned). My life is consumed with this realm; ergo, my blog reflects that. You’re welcome.

Yesterday morning, I read page 617 of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and snapped the book close with a sigh. There’s something incredibly satisfying about finishing a book so massive. Especially a Victorian novel, crammed full of detail and description, twisted plots and deception, and several delightfully intriguing characters.

The Woman in White is a story too involved to be contained in a simply summary; however, I’ll try. A woman named Laura Fairlie marries a man named Sir Percival Glyde, although she loves her drawing master, Walter Hartright. Sir Percival attempts to get Laura to sign away her inheritance so that he can pay his debts, and she refuses because she does not know what she is signing. This refusal, this rebellion sparks a chain of events involving mistaken identity; purloined letters; secrets of Sir Percival’s parents’ marriage; and Laura’s doppelganger, the mysterious woman in white, named Anne Catherick. Playing very important supporting roles are Marion Halcombe, Laura’s loyal, strong, and feisty half-sister, and Count Fosco, the charismatic, controlling, deceptive mastermind, who may be one of the greatest villains ever written.

The story is considered by some to be a precursor to postmodernism, though it was published in 1859-60 (serialized and edited by the wonderful Charles Dickens). Walter Hartright is the lead narrator, who brings all the pieces of the story together in narrative form. Many characters (major and minor) have a say in the narration; the bulk comes from Marion’s diary and Walter’s narrative. However, even Fosco gets a chance to tell his story, and his section was my favorite in the book. He’s charming and witty and audacious, and I loved him while I hated him. Through the entire novel, the reader must determine the truth, which is often ambiguous and relative.

Interestingly enough, the two characters who should have the most to say about this situation–Laura and Anne Catherick–have little to no voice at all. Only though small sections of dialogue written by other people do we ever hear their side of the story. Neither has a section written in her own hand.

There are so many more issues I could discuss here–gender roles (and the inversion thereof), the concept that one’s identity is bound with one’s signature, the theme of imprisonment (both literal and figurative).

We’ll just leave it at this: Wilkie Collins is magnificent. I got a little bogged down in the middle of the book–I was tired of reading, and I was ready to invest my life in something else. 617 pages is a lofty commitment. But having finished, I really wish I had time in my life to pick up another Collins work–Katherine has recommended The Moonstone, and I look forward to reading that one as well. I really love Victorian literature–detailed and verbose as it is. 🙂

Did Angel read Robert Frost?

For my Adolescent Lit class at Converse, I have to memorize a poem and recite it in front of my class, telling why I chose that poem and what makes it appealing for adolescents. I wanted to recite “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost; however, it’s only 9 lines, and the poem needs to be at least 14. For those of you who are Stephanie Meyer fans, recall that “Fire and Ice” was the epigraph for Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight saga, and has since become representative of Bella’s choice between fire (Jacob the werewolf) and ice (Edward the vampire). So, in the realm of contemporary adolescent literature, Frost already has a vampire connection.

But I may have spotted another vampire connection. The poem I chose to recite is “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost. Both poems are late Frost, written during the Modern period in American literature. The poem:

“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain–and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say goodbye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Anybody else think this could be the theme for a vampire–particularly one with a soul who is haunted by the need to atone for past sins? I think Joss had read this poem extensively when he created Angel. Just sayin’. 🙂

October Books

Seven total for the month. Yearly total is 92. Reading is fun. 🙂

1. Carmilla, Sherdian Le Fanu. A novella. Vampire story. The best that I read of Le Fanu. (From In a Glass Darkly, a collection of short stories and novellas. Towards the end of the book, I was on Le Fanu overload. He’s not my favorite, but I really did enjoy this novella.)

2. Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America, David Stick. I had a presentation on nonfiction writers for young adults, and I randomly chose this guy because he writes about nautical history. This is a lengthy book examining the history of early British colonization in the “Virginia” area (which is actually modern-day NC). It’s really interesting and informative.

3. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank. I’d never read this before. It’s hard to read, knowing that each diary entry brings me closer to the end–her arrest and subsequent death. It’s incredibly powerful.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Volume 5: Issues 21-25: Predator and Prey. Ugh. I’m only reading these because I love Buffy. I want to know the story. This one was actually better than volume 5, but I miss the goodness of the TV show.

5. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness. AMAZING.

6. The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness. A sequel that is just as good as the first book. These books are astonishing.

7. The Same Stuff as Stars, Katherine Paterson. Required for my young adult literature class. An excellent book for middle-school-aged readers about a girl whose father is in jail and whose mother leaves her and her younger brother in the care of an elderly great-grandmother. Angel is forced to be the grownup always, and this book is a great story about how she handles that pressure.