The First Day of School

I got a call around 4:50 last Thursday from my admissions counselor at Gardner-Webb, asking if I was coming to class that evening.

“Have I been accepted?” I asked.

Yep. Sure had. The committee had approved my application just that afternoon, three days after classes started.

I registered the next morning for a World Lit class specializing in Caribbean Women’s Writing. I’m behind because I missed the first night of class, but my professor (who is also my advisor) told me not to worry about catching up. She’s been incredibly wonderful, and I’ve communicated with her many times now on the phone and in email trying to figure out what class to take and such.

I’m heading to Gardner-Webb tonight for my first class. It’s a long drive (aobut 50 miles from G-W to my apartment), but at least I only have to make the trip once a week. I’m already intimidated by the syllabus, but in a good way. We have three major projects: a 7-10 page lit review, a 15-20 page final project on a novel not covered in class, and a 5-7 page theory/definition paper on Caribbean writing. That’s a major step up from Converse, where my biggest project was an 8 page research paper with a 20-entry annotated bibliography. This is real grad school. Thank God I did this kind of work at NGU. 🙂

I’m excited, but a little anxious. The perfectionist in me is a little antsy at the reading load (lots of novels plus extra essays each week) and the projects. Also, G-W is apparently on the 8 point grading scale (where a 93-100 is an A), so what would qualify as an A (at NGU) or an A- (at Converse) would be a solid B. I don’t like B’s.

But…I’m excited by the reading list. I’m excited that I’m enrolled at a new school (in another state, even!). I’m excited by the challenge.

Also, I’m excited about my notebook. Last night, I covered an ordinary composition notebook with fun scrapbook paper and pictures from islands in the Caribbean. It’s pretty much awesome. My classmates will be jealous, and they’ll all want to be friends with me. I’m sure.

At any rate, I’ll find out tonight! Yay for the first day of school!

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Dreams are fading out.

When my alarm went off this morning, I woke up from a really disturbing dream. The kind of dream that made me afraid to go back to sleep, even for those 15 minutes until my next alarm. The kind of dream that made me want to squeeze my eyes shut and never open them again. The kind of dream that made me afraid that life had altered irrevocably in the eight hours I’d been asleep.

I wasn’t the main character in the dream, but I felt everything he was feeling. I only remember brief snatches of the dream, fortunately. A man and his son were in some sort of large shopping center or department store (subconsciously pulling in the shopping cart from The Road, perhaps?). It wasn’t a store any longer, though. Some sort of disaster had occurred (i.e. the apocalypse or something), and groups of people were waging a war against each other. I can’t even describe the terror of just moving through the aisles of this store. Anyway, a group of evil men were hunting for this man and his son, and they kidnapped the boy. The man had tried to flee with his son, but to no avail. He dashed into the parking lot, searching in vain for the vehicle they could have escaped in. The parking lot was pitch black dark, with rows and rows of empty vehicles. The man knew that he had arrived at the store in a minivan of some kind, but he couldn’t even remember what specific vehicle was his or where he had parked it. He was desperate and hopeless. When I woke up, he was standing in an empty parking lot, with no one around, absolutely certain his son had already been killed, and knowing that nothing remained that was worth living for.

Dramatic? You bet. My first thought? I’ve got to stop reading dystopian literature.

Over the past year, I’ve read a lot of dystopian novels and seen a lot of dystopian films: the book and film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; Patrick Ness’ young adult novels The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer; other children’s books like The Giver and The Last Book in the Universe; Alan Moore’s graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Books and films that have impacted me greatly–enough so that out of all the books I read and films I’ve seen, these made it into blog posts within the last year or so.

I enjoy dystopian literature and films, in a very strange way. Dystopian texts, and post-apocalyptic texts, remind me that, right now, life is worth fighting for. I have hope in a God who cares for me and for this world, and I’m blessed in immeasurable ways as a result of that. Dystopian settings, depressing and often empty of any higher power, are an other that I can’t really understand outside of my own faith. You can’t understand darkness until you understand light.

I never really realized how much it affected me. Sure, some of my favorite books are dystopian novels that make me feel angry while realizing the power of love. Yes, I wept during the film adaptation of  The Road. Now, my dreams are taking place in a dystopian society, full of fear, hatred, and anger? Maybe I don’t need to see The Book of Eli just yet, even though I’m so intrigued by it.

Maybe I also need to read happier books. I’m working on L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl, happy, light reading. But next up on the list is Dickins’ Hard Times for the class on the Victorian Period that I’m auditing. Not so much happy.

At least this dream is making me realize what those books and films do, as well: I have a God who’s in control of everything–my own life, the lives of my students, the lives of baseball players who take steroids, and the lives of poor people in Haiti. I may not live in a utopia, but I certainly don’t live in anything resembling dystopia, either.

“In a way you’ll live forever.”

“But I know who the real hero is, and it isn’t me or even the brave Lanaya. It’s an old man with a white beard and a walking stick and a heart so big it won’t let him stop thinking he can change the world by writing things down in a book that no one will ever read.”

-Rodman Philbrick, The Last Book in the Universe

* * *

In this dystopian novel, books no longer exist. No one reads. No one remembers what life was like before the Big Shake that destroyed civilization. One old man named Ryter is writing the last book in the universe, recording memories from his ancestors and a record of life as it exists now.

Spaz, the protagonist, lives in what’s called a “latch,” a sort of chaotic community run by a latchboss. He needs help getting back to the latch where he once lived, where his adopted sister Bean is dying of leukemia because the cure has been lost. Ryter insists that he go with Spaz, to record this last adventure before he dies.

Other characters in this story are “proovs,” genetically improved people. They’ve been programmed to resist diseases and cancer, so they have no need of chemotherapy that can cure Bean’s disease. Spaz meets a proov named Lanaya, and the three of them fight off gangs of evil people to get to Bean. All the while, Ryter spouts poetry and discusses events that took place before the Big Shake, drilling into Spaz the importance of keeping a written record, of writing down one’s story.

A beautiful moment happens toward the end of the story. Bean asks Ryter why he constantly makes references to being old and dying. Ryter worries that he won’t have time to finish his book. Bean’s response reveals that she understands the importance of story: “”But would it ever really be finished?’ she asks. ‘I thought the book was your life, and it would only end when your life ends. Except it won’t really end, because people will read it and remember, so in a way you’ll live forever.'”

This book is a dystopian novel, set in a chaotic world. It’s not as dark as many other dystopian novels I’ve read, making it suitable for younger readers. Just as with other dystopian stories, Philbrick has established a jargon for his world. Fortunately, this jargon either explained or easy to figure out.

It’s really a great story. Ryter quotes Frost and Yeats, which had me cheering internally as I read. He’s a great character, wise and intelligent and courageous, inspiring Spaz to be more than just a slave to the latchboss and to fight for the things that are right and good. This is a re-read for me, but it’s definitely one I would go back to again and again.

The Dream-givers

“And you know what, Thin Elderly? Sad parts are important. If I ever get to train a new young dream-giver, that’s one of the things I’ll teach: that you must include the sad parts, because they are part of the story, and they have to be part of the dreams.”

-Lois Lowry, Gossamer

* * *

Gossamer interweaves the stories of the dream-givers and those to whom they give dreams each night. The story opens with an older dream-giver named Fastidious training the Littlest One. They give pleasant, happy dreams to an older, unmarried woman whose only companion is her dog Toby.

Soon, this woman takes in a foster child, an angry eight-year-old named John. John requires a lot of strengthening to battle the nightmares imposed by the Sinisteeds, the counterparts to the dream-givers. John’s anger stems from his parents divorce and his father’s abuse, and through the good dreams bestowed upon him, he becomes a happier child.

This book is beautiful in that Lowry understands the power of a story. The way that the dream-givers bestow dreams is through touching items in the person’s home. They gather fragments of each person’s story, both happy and sad memories. They use these fragments to provide dreams. Through the dreams, the reader learns more about each person’s story. For example, the woman never married because the man she loved was a soldier who was killed in France during the war. The memory of this man causes her to smile in her sleep.

Furthermore, the language that Lowry uses is wonderful. Littlest One comes to be known for her light touch–her gossamer touch. She gathers memories through the slightest touch, which allows her to touch living creatures, such as the dog and a butterfly, without disturbing their slumber. It’s fitting that at the end of the novel, when Littlest is finished with her training and a new littlest arrives, she is given the name Gossamer.

Moreover, the subtlety of language makes this book powerful. The dream-givers provide dreams by bestowing them upon sleeping human. The connotation of that word implies that good dream are a gift. Conversely, the Sinisteeds–dark, angry, horse-like creatures–inflict their nightmares upon the humans. The experience is painful and harsh, but the dream-givers fight the Sinisteeds through bestowing courageous dreams that the subconscious uses to fight against the pain.

All in all, this short novel is a beautiful piece of work, just like everything else Lois Lowry writes. She’s pretty much a genius. 🙂

Recalled to Life

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation of itself and wearing out.”

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

* * *

After more than a month of reading sporadically, I have finally finished this novel. Harvin, who frequently expresses contempt for my literary tastes, finds this to be the only tolerable Dickens novel. Other professors have expressed shock that I claim to love Dickens and had not read what they declared to be his best work. Therefore, when the semester ended in December, I began this novel, anticipating that I would soon have another favorite Dickens novel.

The story takes place during the French Revolution. The book begins with the story of Dr. Manette, who has been imprisoned. His daughter Lucie (of whom he had no knowledge) and his friend Mr. Lorry rescue him from Paris, and they all return to London, where Dr. Manette is recalled to life; Lucie’s love and loyalty help him to overcome the isolation he has known for 18 years.

Part II begins with many other stories converging: the Defarges, who own a wine shop and are part of the Jacquerie, revolutionaries who storm the Bastille; Charles Darnay, estranged from his noble family, who flees to London and later marries Lucie; Jerry Clunker, an odd-job man at Mr. Lorry’s bank; a random mender of roads; various other minor characters that are sometimes hard to keep up with.

In part III, Charles returns to Paris to aid a friend who has been imprisoned. In the fervor of revolution, the Parisians are bloodthirsty. They will arrest anyone under suspicion of any illegal activity. And La Guillotine becomes a major character in the story, as she is worshiped by the Parisians. Charles is arrested, and the story ensues.

I found this novel difficult to get through. However, I think that’s probably because I’m burnt out on Victorian literature. Though I love it, after taking a class and reading two other Dickens novels just for fun in the past few months, I think I’ve just had too much description, verbosity, and intrigue. Perhaps a few years from now, I’ll pick up A Tale of Two Cities and be utterly delighted. This time, however, I had to force myself to finish, and I refused to start any other books until I was done.

Another reason I had a hard time reading the book is because the characters did not appeal to me nearly as much as others that Dickens has written. To be honest, I didn’t really care whether Charles Darnay was able to escape from prison. I didn’t care whether Dr. Manette became catatonic and started making shoes again, as he had done while imprisoned in the Defarges’ upper rooms. In Great Expectations (still my favorite Dickens novel), I cared about Pip from the very first page. I wanted to know how his story was going to end; I wanted to know if he achieved his great expectations. Conversely, I just didn’t care that much about Lucie and Charles in A Tale of Two Cities.

All that said, the very last chapter made the journey worth it. In the last few pages, Dickens concluded this story of love and loyalty in a profoundly beautiful way. Sydney Carton is the real hero of this novel, which is quite a feat considering I didn’t like him when he first appeared in the novel. For those of you who haven’t read this novel, I won’t ruin the ending. Just know that Dickens’ last chapter reminded me of why he is one of my favorite authors.

Resolutions/Suggestions/Goals

So last night, six days into the new year, I sat down and decided on five things I want to do this year.

1. Don’t check my email before I go to work each morning (unless I’m expecting a vital email about weather advisories or something). Now that I have a functioning laptop again, I can feel that addiction to the internet resurfacing. I don’t always need to know what’s going on in the virtual lives of everyone I’ve ever met. I can wait until I get to work, when I check my work email, to check my personal email and Facebook page as well. I’ll be less inclined (hopefully) to waste precious minutes reading status updates. Plus, I might be on time for work every day.

2. Read 100 books I’ve never read before. Last year, I read 100 books. Well more than half of those were first-time reads, but I want to push myself even farther this year. Re-reads are great, but I have so many books that I’ve been intending to read for years.

3. Devote at least one hour a week to scrapbooking or crocheting. Two activities that I love–and they both tend not to happen when I’m super-busy. If I pledge to be crafty at least once a week, then I know for sure I’ll have a little bit of stress-free time.

4. Help my parents clean and organize their house. I had a great time organizing and hanging out with my parents over Christmas. And they really appreciated my help and encouragement. I tentatively plan to go home every few weeks and help them tackle some new section of the house.

5. Mark at least 12 things off The List this year. That’s an average of one per month, though I’m ahead of the game with two marked off already. Potential items to mark off: #9: Write a travel guide (or blog); #60: St. Simon’s Island Lighthouse; #66: The Greenville Zoo; #81: The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum; #92: Andalusia; #93: riverboat down the Mississippi. And who knows what else I’ll add and mark off this year?

Call ’em resolutions. Call ’em suggestions. Call ’em goals. Call ’em whatever you want. Most of these are things I would do anyway (or at least plan to). But I’ve discovered I’m much more accountable to a written list.

Any suggestions for more resolutions I should make?

#57: Flannery O’Connor & #59: Climb the Tybee Lighthouse

Two goals accomplished in one day! Yay!

Yesterday, Harvin, Ticcoa, Jessie, and I headed to Savannah for the day. Our first stop was the information center and Savannah History Museum. The Museum was just okay. It contained a lot of info about Savannah’s involvement in wars and stuff (and frequent mentions of Casimir Pulaski, for whom Fort Pulaski is named–I visited the fort in March 2008, and it’s my favorite fort, if one can have such a thing). Anyway, the best part about the museum was that the bench from Forsyth Square, where Tom Hanks sat when filming Forrest Gump in Savannah, is on display.

Next we had lunch at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which is adjacent to the info center and museum, and is housed in an old train passenger car. Of course, I ordered fried green tomatoes (which are the best I’ve ever had–they came with a raspberry-jalepeno sauce–yum!). All the food was magnificent. I ordered smothered chicken, collards, and fries; Jessie ordered citrus BBQ chicken; and Ticcoa and Harvin had pulled pork. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished because we couldn’t bear to leave food on our plates. And our waitress was named Xeular (pronounced ex-ler). She was delightful. After lunch, we set off on our real adventure of the day:

#57: Visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah

As a girl, O’Connor lived with her parents in downtown Savannah, in a beautiful neighborhood. The house has been restored thanks to the generosity of Jerry & Linda Bruckheimer (yes, the movie guy!). We arrived at the house in time to join the 1:30 tour with a wonderful tour guide named Toby.

The house itself is a long, narrow house, full of some original furniture from the O’Connors (as well as some donated by family friends). Our docent Toby is quite a fan of Flannery, which was wonderful. The best house-museum tours occur when the guides are fans of the work and are completely immersed in the author’s life. When Toby mentioned “Mary Flannery,” it seemed as though he were recounting his own memories of her. Anyway, we saw the parlor of the house, as well as Flannery’s and her parents’ bedrooms. Also, dedicated in Oct. 2007, the Bruckheimer Library contains some first editions of Flannery’s works, as well as some of her own personal books.

The only other people on the tour besides the four of us were a couple from Ohio, who left right after the tour was over. We, of course, stuck around to buy merchandise, and we continued to talk to Toby. He asked if we were teachers (I had commented earlier that I was glad the precocious Flannery wasn’t one of my students), and we talked about being English majors and visiting literary sites. He asked if we’d ever seen Flannery’s drawing. We didn’t even know she was an artist, as well, so he walked back into the library, pulled out one of her old yearbooks, and showed us the drawings she had done while in college. It pays to be curious and passionate. We frequently get extra-long tours and behind-the-scenes info when we stick around asking questions. 🙂

Because someone else on the tour has asked if Toby was the one who lived on the third floor, we also asked him about how he wound up in Savannah. He’d been living and writing in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and he lost everything. He then moved to Atlanta, with minimal belongings, to stay with a friend, but wasn’t happy there. He felt compelled to visit Savannah at Thanksgiving of 2005, discovered Flannery’s house, remembered reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and loving it, and saw a sign in the window that said “For Rent.” He soon moved into the third floor of the house, above the museum, and has lived and worked there ever since.

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home now ranks as one of my favorite tours (up there with The Wren’s Nest in Atlanta and The Old Manse and the Wayside in Concord, MA). If you’re ever near Savannah, GO! Also, if you want to take me with you again, that’d be okay, too.

#59: Go back to Tybee and climb the lighthouse

After the tour, we left Savannah and drove the 13 miles or so to Tybee Island. In March 2008, I went to Fort Pulaski and Tybee Island by myself, but I didn’t climb the lighthouse when I was there. Because the line was so long, and because I was newly diabetic and alone and worried about what climbing 178 steps would do to my blood sugar, I merely toured the grounds on that visit. Yesterday, I finally climbed the lighthouse.

It was kinda stupid to pick January 2 as the day to climb the lighthouse. When you’re standing 154 feet in the air, looking far out to the ocean and far down to the ground, and the wind is whipping around a narrow conical tower, and it’s 40 degrees outside, the event just isn’t as pleasant as it could be. It was, however, adventurous. I’m pretty sure we were all afraid for our lives. 🙂

This was my second time climbing a lighthouse. My first climb was at Hunting Island, which is only 108 feet tall. Those 46 feet make a difference. I’m not generally the one who’s afraid of heights, but I was a little nervous, dizzy, and queasy, so I can’t imagine how nervous Harvin and Ticcoa were. Yikes. Thanks, friends, for climbing the lighthouse with me anyway.

After touring the grounds of the lighthouse, we went back into the gift shop, where I found a real treasure: Lighthouse-opoly! Yes, that’s Monopoly with a lighthouse theme. Am I not the coolest person you’ve ever met? 🙂 Anyone want to play with me?

We left Tybee around 5:15, with the intention of hitting the interstate and finding a quick bite to eat on the road. Originally, we’d planned to head back downtown to find a restaurant, but exhaustion one out. Sadly, our plans changed a bit when we merged onto the parking lot that was I-95. For the next 45 miles, the traffic was a headache. It was stop-and-go for a few miles, then we sped up to about 60 for awhile, then we slowed down significantly–I was actually driving around 5 mph for awhile. The problem? A horrendous wreck around mile marker 50–an RV crushed a car, and a pickup truck was also somehow involved. We finally got through and pulled off a few miles later at the Walterboro exit, which was also the first restaurant that featured not-fast-food restaurants.

Sadly, every other traveller had the same idea. The Ruby Tuesday had a 30-35 minute wait, so we crossed the overpass to the Cracker Barrel and waited about 15 minutes for a table (fortunately, there was still room to wait inside the restaurant). We finally left Walterboro around 8:30, with a three hour drive ahead of us. It was almost midnight before we arrived home.

Nonetheless, the day was wonderful. We drove 572.5 miles (of which I drove about 490–crazy!), visited two museums and a lighthouse, ate lunch in an old train car, got stuck in traffic, and had one grand adventure over the course of about 17 hours.

I fell asleep really quickly last night, slept almost 10 hours, and woke up with a beastly headache that only two cups of coffee and a few hours of consciousness could cure. A travel hangover, if you will. 🙂 Nonetheless, I’m already itching for another adventure. Any suggestions on what we should do next?