31 December, 2006

Book Reviews

101 in 1001

I got this idea while surfing around for new knitting patterns. I'm a huge fan of lists and have a tendency to make them for stupid reasons, just so I have something to check off at the end of the day. I joined 43 Things and got quickly over whelmed by the sheer number of things I want to do with my life, so I'm hoping this little endeavour will go more smoothly.

I discovered the concept and borrowed categories from Annemarie at Chartreuse Knits. The breakdown of how it works is at Triplux. I'm also snagging Annemarie's idea of putting in some things she has in progress or already plans to do, because choosing 101 brand new things to do in the next 2 1/2-ish years is quite daunting. ::deep breath:: Here we go!

Dec. 2007 Edit: Some of the things on this list are ongoing Self-Betterment Projects, so I can't cross them out until I feel like they've become habits. Some of them need to be re-adjusted to fit in with how my life has changed in the last year. All that aside, I've managed to do several things on this list without referring to it the way I should. As of Dec. 20, 2007, I've completed 12 of my goals, some of which are pretty small and some of which are big, but I'm going to have to do better to finish in a year and a half!

101 Things in 1001 Days

1. Refer back to my 101 things regularly and check them off as they are completed
2. Make a new 101 in 1001 list by September 28, 2009

Learning and Scholarship

3. Maintain a 3.0+ higher GPA beginning with the Spring 2008 semester
4. Finish all lower division classes
5. Study a minimum of 2 hours twice per week during term
6. Finish transcribing 3 terms of mysteriously messy Art History notes (0/3)
7. Attend all classes in the spring 2008 semester (skipping for health/family is ok, skipping for TV is not)
8. Complete notes from Stokstad and Gardener's Art History
9. Complete notes from Hartt's Renaissance text
10. Buy all books one term Spring 08 term
11. Stop being afraid of drawing
12. Learn to ballroom dance
13. Graduate.

14. Maintain a healthy weight
15. Take a multi-vitamin and vitamin C daily through one bottle of each
17. Design and find someone to start new tattoo
18. Donate blood 8 times (0/8)
19. Spend a day at a spa
20. Make a list of 100+ things that make me happy.
21. Find a new form of exercise that I enjoy and engage in it 2x/week for 6 months (see #13, may extend beyond end of 1001 days)
22. Walk for 30 minutes 50 times (0/50)

23. Organize books (Delicious Library or LibraryThings.com)
24. Clean out storage unit
25. Catalogue knitting and embroidery stash. Knitting stash completed via Ravelry in 2007(1/2)

26. Take a class from a Williams/Sonoma store
27. Cook at home 4 days or more per week (warming leftovers count as "cooking") July-Dec 07
28. Learn to make Ammi's Kima by heart (0/2)
29. Create a Friends and Family cookbook with favorite recipes
30. Eat breakfast 4 days or more per week (healthy preferred but just breakfast is a good start) for one semester (1/16 weeks)
31. Try 5 types/nationalities of food I have never tried before (1/5) Types: Jewish

32. Write 5 letters to friends in 2008 (0/5)
33. Obtain mailing addresses/birthdays for 15 friends (0/15)
35. Write a card to both grandmothers every month for 6 months. Include pictures when possible! (0/6)
36. Throw a dinner party
37. Send Christmas cards
38. Send Thank You cards for Christmas/Birthday gifts
39. Get geneology from mom

40. Save $1000 in savings account
41. Go one week without spending any money Jan 07
42. Pay off one Alaska student loan
43. Finish paying off MBNA loan
44. Buy a car Nissan Sentra, Jan '08

45. Knit a lace shawl Dec 07, Victorian Lace Shawl
46. Knit 5 pairs of socks (5/5)
47. Make a quilt or afghan
48. Knit something for each grandmother VLS for Grandmother A, Seeded Rib for Grandmother M(2/2)
49. Make a box of 10 gifts for spontaneous gift-giving
50. Knit for a shelter or charity Knitters for Obama Veteran Knitting
51. Finish one embroidery project
52. Knit a sweater for myself
53. Complete the 12-Mile Quest
54. Work exclusively from stash for 1 year (may only purchase items needed to complete a project, may extend beyond end date for 101 in 1001)
55. Join TKGA Dec. 08

56. Buy flowers just to brighten up the room
57. Buy all new underwear
58. Buy missing seasons of Gilmore Girls (0/5)
59. Buy Warcraft III and expansion
60. Buy a printer
61. Buy chart/kit for Chatelaine Heirloom Chart

62. Play one video game start-to-finish without hints or cheats
63. Play one computer game start-to-finish without hints or cheats (WCIII?)
64. Attend a Renaissance Faire (dressed up!)
65. Go to a museum 24 times (2/24)
66. Go to a midnight opening for 7th Harry Potter book July 21, 2007
67. Watch all of AFI's 100 Greatest Movies (37/100)
68. Watch all of AFI's Greatest Musicals (17/25)
69. Watch HBO's Rome season 1
70. Catch up on all seasons of a TBD TV show
71. Go to an opera
72. Finish The Canon (0/37) (May read plays instead, but must make serious effort to see them first)
73. See Les Miserablés live
74. See Rent live
75. Marathon all 6 Star Wars movies and mock the newest 3 mercilessly
76. Participate in 26 Things at least once
77. Try out Buffy the Vampire Slayer
78. Watch 100 movies from my Netflix queue 1/100

79. Get a passport
80. Go to Italy
81. Visit Laurie in San Diego
82. Visit Malia and Shannon in Portland
83. Go on a road trip with Sioux
84. Go on a cruise or to a retreat
85. Leave the country (Italy doesn't count) Mexico Nov. 07
86. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden in SF
87. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Miscellaneous (and things I didn't categorize because I didn't want to re-number everything!)
88. Pay for the person behind me at the toll booth Regularly in 2007
89. Get a spinning wheel
90. Read 50 books to be determined (8/50) Begin keeping track again in Jan. 08
91. Find 3 new-to-me authors and read everything they've written (0/3) Working on Stephenson/Pratchett
92. Finish L&V's Finishalongapalooza - (10/10)
93. Vote in 2008 election
94. File taxes and FAFSA before March 15 every year(1/3)
95. Play paintball
96. Buy a digital SLR camera
97. Leave someone a 100% tip (on a bill of $15 or more)
98. Go to the dentist
99. Get health insurance
100. Learn to spin sock yarn
101. (TBA)

AFI's 25 Greatest Musicals

** means I saw the movie before I started keeping track

**2 WEST SIDE STORY 1961 United Artists
**4 SOUND OF MUSIC, THE 1965 Twentieth Century-Fox
**5 CABARET 1972 Allied Artists
**6 MARY POPPINS 1964 Disney
7 STAR IS BORN, A 1954 Warner Bros.
**8 MY FAIR LADY 1964 Warner Bros.
**11 KING AND I, THE 1956 Twentieth Century-Fox
**12 CHICAGO 2002 Miramax
13 42ND STREET 1933 Warner Bros.
14 ALL THAT JAZZ 1979 Twentieth Century-Fox
15 TOP HAT 1935 RKO
16 FUNNY GIRL 1968 Columbia
18 YANKEE DOODLE DANDY 1942 Warner Bros.
**20 GREASE 1978 Paramount
**22 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 1991 Disney
24 SHOW BOAT 1936 Universal
**25 MOULIN ROUGE! 2001 Twentieth Century Fox

AFI's 100 Best American Films

** means I saw the movie before I started keeping track of dates

**1.CITIZEN KANE (1941)
**2.CASABLANCA (1942)
**6.WIZARD OF OZ, THE (1939)
7.GRADUATE, THE (1967)
**10.SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)
**14.SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
**15.STAR WARS (1977)
16.ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
18.PSYCHO (1960)
19.CHINATOWN (1974)
22.2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
24.RAGING BULL (1980)
27.BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)
**28.APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
**31.ANNIE HALL (1977)
33.HIGH NOON (1952)
**41.WEST SIDE STORY (1961)
42.REAR WINDOW (1954)
**43.KING KONG (1933)
47.TAXI DRIVER (1976)
**48.JAWS (1975)
**53.AMADEUS (1984)
**55.SOUND OF MUSIC, THE (1965)
57.THIRD MAN, THE (1949)
**58.FANTASIA (1940)
**61.VERTIGO (1958)
**62.TOOTSIE (1982)
63.STAGECOACH (1939)
66.NETWORK (1976)
69.SHANE (1953)
**71.FORREST GUMP (1994)
72.BEN-HUR (1959)
74.GOLD RUSH, THE (1925)
76.CITY LIGHTS (1931)
78.ROCKY (1976)
79.DEER HUNTER, THE (1978)
80.WILD BUNCH, THE (1969)
81.MODERN TIMES (1936)
82.GIANT (1956)
83.PLATOON (1986)
84.FARGO (1996)
85.DUCK SOUP (1933)
**87.FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
88.EASY RIDER (1969)
89.PATTON (1970)
90.JAZZ SINGER, THE (1927)
**91.MY FAIR LADY (1964)
92.PLACE IN THE SUN, A(1951)
93.APARTMENT, THE (1960)
94.GOODFELLAS (1990)
**95.PULP FICTION (1994)
96.SEARCHERS, THE (1956)
98.UNFORGIVEN (1992)
AFI is a trademark of the American Film Institute. Copyright 2005 American Film Institute. All Rights Reserved.

03 September, 2006

The Plath Mystique

The Plath Mystique

Picture, for a moment, the magazine image of a 1950’s housewife. Lovely, perfectly coifed, her manicured hand holding a duster like a queenly scepter. Her skirts are frilly, her apron sparkling, and her joy in knowing that the perfect roast will shortly emerge from her oven is unmistakable. She eagerly waits for her husband to return home from earning the daily bread, and while she waits she cleans, cleans, cleans and cooks, cooks, cooks. This Lady of the House, unlike her predecessors, has no need of servants - she can run a household all on her own with the help of Technology! She is the queen of all she surveys...

In many ways the image is the epitome of domesticity, as previous women were not. As Anna Quindlen says in her introduction to The Feminine Mystique, “The advances of science, the development of labor-saving devices, the development of the suburbs: all had come together to offer women in the 1950s a life their mothers had scarcely dreamed of, free from rampant disease, onerous drudgery, noxious city streets” (xi). But this new-found dream had unanticipated consequences, as she goes on to say, “the green lawns and big corner lots were isolating, the housework seemed to expand to fill the time available, and polio and smallpox were replaced by depression and alcoholism. All that was covered up in a kitchen conspiracy of denial.” A conspiracy of denial, indeed - a “problem with no name,” a hatred and fear of the domestic requirement of the era. But before Betty Friedan blew the lid off of the conspiracy in 1963, there was Sylvia Plath; criticizing her role as a housewife and mother with a viciousness that belied her outward appearance and a bitterness that resonates through the drama of her biography to continue criticizing even today.

Both Plath and Friedan have been stereotyped as “neurotic,” which means “abnormally tense or sensitive” - implying that the neurotic have created their own problems and therefore their ideas shouldn’t be given any consideration (Merriam-Webster). Certainly the patriarchy that sought to put women back in the home after the second world war had a hand in such a categorization, as did the businesses that thrived on perpetuating similar roles for women. Friedan recognized early on that no women’s magazine would publish her findings because of their investment in womens’ roles. Redbook told Friedan's agent that only neurotic housewives would identify with her work - bringing up the “n-word” again. Similarly, Plath’s chosen medium of confessional poetry can often give a reader the sense that the poet has spilled her vitriol on the page wholesale; the poems emerging like Athena from Zeus’ head, fully-formed and ready to do battle with the world. If this were true, it would be easier to dismiss Plath’s poetry as neurotic. However, there is much evidence to the contrary: the many, many drafts of even Plath’s bitterest poems, and this quote from an interview in October of 1962:

“I think my poems immediately come out of the sensuous and emotional experiences I have, but I must say I cannot sympathise with these cries from the heart that are informed by nothing except a needle or a knife, or whatever it is. I believe that one should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrific, like madness, being tortured, this sort of experience, and one should be able to manipulate these experiences with an informed and an intelligent mind” (Interview).

All this to postulate that Plath knew exactly what she was doing, knew exactly the systems she was attacking through poetry, just as Friedan knew what she was attacking with her most famous book: the unnecessary roles women were being forced to fill in the post-WWII western world.

In 1962, Plath wrote the poem “Daddy,” a scathing exorcism of the memory of a father long-dead and his ghostly influence on the speaker’s life many years later. A queer mixture of anger and love, “Daddy” represents the father figure as an image of ultimate oppression.

“In the picture I have of you,/A cleft in your chin instead of your foot/But no less a devil for that, no not/any less the black man who//Bit my pretty red heart in two./I was ten when they buried you./At twenty I tried to die/and get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do” (Plath 76)

While it is generally accepted that a poet’s poems do not necessarily speak with the voice of the poet herself, it is nearly impossible to separate the poetic voice from Plath’s own history, and from there extrapolate to the influence of her dead father over her entire life. It is also not a large leap to say that Plath’s “Daddy” goes beyond her own experience to cast judgment on patriarchal control in her society. The father is portrayed as a nazi, a devil and a vampire, exerting control over his child from beyond the grave and (as clichĂ© as it sounds) sucking her will to live through his memory alone, just as the patriarchal structure of post-WWII society sapped the will of housewives across the United States by putting them in roles that devalued their intelligence and education, “Like a two-headed schizophrenic... once she wrote a paper on the Graveyard poets; now she writes notes to the milkman” (Friedan 23).

“The Detective” is another poem that tackles the subtle oppression of women’s housewifely roles:

“A body into a pipe, and the smoke rising,/This is the smell of years burning, here in the kitchen/These are the deceits, tacked up like family photographs,/ And this is a man, look at his smile,/ The death weapon? No-one is dead” (31).

This poem speaks to the disintegration of the woman as a whole when she is thrust into the roles created for her by a patriarchal society. The crime in the poem will never be solved because the woman no longer exists; she has disappeared piece by piece under the burden of being “in the kitchen” for years with no purpose. The deceits are the ones that kept her there; ideas that made her a housewife against her will and perpetuated by a man who does not understand. Later in “The Detective,” the woman loses her lips and so cannot speak - a loss of voice echoed by women throughout the era. Betty Friedan opens The Feminine Mystique with a similar statement about the voicelessness of women:

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction... Each suburban housewife struggled with it alone.... -she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question - ‘Is this all?’” (15)

Certainly the similarities between Plath and Friedan are multitude. Both women defied tradition and shattered barriers that had held their fellow housewives captive. Their ideas and theories are eerily similar, although Plath’s have the obvious overtone of depression while Friedan's sound more like determination. One wonders what Plath’s fate might have been had she held out a few more months and read Friedan’s opus - perhaps she would still be with us, continuing the fight they started.

27 January, 2006

The Story

There are many tales of Raven and his exploits among the people of the Pacific Northwest. Growing up in Alaska, I had the privilege of hearing several Raven tales as a young girl; they were so beautiful, funny and entertaining that they have become some of my favorite legends. My favorite story is called "Raven Steals the Light," or sometimes "How Raven Lit the World." Here is the tale as I remember it.

How Raven Lit the World

The world was dark. Dark like the pitch from an old cedar tree. Raven could hardly see to land on a branch, much less spot his favorite crawly treats on the ground. He was annoyed because the People of the land couldn't see him to call his name or tell him jokes. And the People suffered in the darkness, because as everyone knows Lady Cold comes with her Brother Darkness. The People huddled in their cedar lodges, wishing someone would do something to help them. Not that Raven cared much for the People, but he didn't like being cold either. So there you have it.

Now, darkness wasn't the only problem of the People. While they huddled under their button blankets for warmth (almost forgetting what it feels like to be warm), they recalled legends of a time when streams of silver salmon ran in front of every cedar lodge, when animals of all shapes and sizes wandered freely over the land. But this time was only legend, and for many generations there had been no streams of silver salmon and no animals of any shape or size. Only Raven and his friends Eagle and Bear, who were equally hungry and sick of the cold and dark.

One day, the three friends were commiserating about the dark, cold, hungry state they were in. "Do you think there will ever be light again, like the People say in their stories? You know, legend has basis in fact, so there must have been light and warmth, long ago." Bear was slow and deliberating, which made her friends think she was stupid. But she was strong and fiercely loyal, and occasionally said something that made Raven think she was not so stupid after all. "Perhaps," said Raven, "but where did the light go? How would we find it again?" Eagle, from the top of the tallest pine tree, said, "I thought I saw the light once. It was coming from the smokehole of the Grandfather's cedar lodge. We should go look." Eagle, you see, has the sharpest eyes of all, and was the most irritated by the darkness. Not even Eagle can see well when Brother Darkness comes to call.

So the friends set off up the mountain to the cedar lodge of Grandfather, which was situated at the very top of the mountain. The lodge was very, very old, made of the largest cedar beams anyone had ever seen. Raven knocked smartly on the lintel. "Grandfather! Are you there? We are come to call on you, O venerated Elder!" but no answer came from inside the great cedar lodge, so Eagle began to use his sharp eyes to peer a way in. Alas, there was none. The only opening was the smokehole, and by some magic only smoke could pass through - not even Raven could get in. "Well," said Eagle, "that is that, as they say. I am going back to the tallest pine to think this over." "I shall return to my cave, and think as well," growled Bear. "I will stay here and see what may be seen," replied Raven. "Good journey to you both."

Raven sat on a pine branch for a day and a night, trying to think up a way to get into the cedar lodge. On the morning of the second day, he heard the bubble and burble of water. It was such a surprising sound that he hopped right down off of his pine branch and went to investigate. There, coming from underneath the door of the great cedar lodge, was a bright stream of water, no larger than Raven's wingspan. And kneeling by the streamlet was a beautiful girl, washing clothes. A seed of an idea came to Raven, so he waited until the girl took up a a cup and dipped some water from the stream. Quick as a spider, Raven transformed himself into a hemlock needle and jumped into the cup, just in time for the girl to drink him down. Once in her belly, Raven transformed himself again and became a baby, settled himself down to grow and wait for his time to be born.

Nine Months Later
Raven was born in the usual way to the beautiful girl in the dark and cold of the perpetual night, and he was without a doubt the oddest looking baby either the girl or her father had ever seen: a head of black hair the texture of down, a sharp beaky nose and yellow eyes. But like grandfathers have since the beginning of time, and shall until the fish turn to stars in the sky, the Grandfather thought this first grandson the most marvelous child eer born to woman. His pride swelled up and filled the cedar house until he had to turn it into smoke to allow it through the smokehole.

Raven, now a boy in the Elder's family, set about exploring his new surroundings, trying to find the source of the light Eagle had seen so long ago. He inspected everything the the lodge to no avail. Then one day while his Grandfather was sleeping, he came upon a pile of large bentwood boxes covered by a oilcloth. A glow emerged from under the cloth, so baby Raven pointed and squawked and finally the Grandfather uncovered the boxes. Baby Raven squawked and pointed some more, so Grandfather put the smallest box in Raven's hands. When Raven put his ear to the box, he could hear rushing water and leaping salmon; this must be Grandfather's secret place for the streams of silver salmon. Raven played carefully with the box for three days, wailing if the Grandfather took it away from him even for a moment. Alas, Raven could not open the box, no matter how he tried. On the fourth day, the Grandfather's daughter took the box from Raven and carried it to the open door of the Great Cedar Lodge. The daughter carefully cracked open the box just enough to let out the tiniest trickle of water - just enough to wash clothes in. Raven cocked his head and watched with one golden eye. Then, quick as a hummingbird, he ripped the top off of the box and in a roar so loud it shook the Great Cedar Lodge like an autumn leaf came all the streams and rivers that Grandfather had hoarded up so long ago.

The People rejoiced. The Animals rejoiced. Raven, now suspicious of the other boxes, began listening. In one box, he heard the cries of every animal he could imagine. In another, he heard nothing but felt a great heat. Raven again tried to open the boxes, but they were sealed by magic and he could not get his beak or claws into them. He tried knocking them against one another, hitting them with convenient rocks, and even tried to hurl them outside to no avail.Several weeks went by, and Raven became upset and sad. It was a new feeling, as Raven is usually the most cheerful and clever of the Animals, and he didn't like it one little bit. Brother Eagle sensed this (for it was his particular talent to spot emotions as well as prey), and came to visit Raven one afternoon, dragging a freshly-caught salmon in his claws. Raven's beady gold eyes lit up. "Eagle!" he cried, "Bring that salmon over here! I have an idea." Raven dragged the box of animal sounds over to the open doorway - his mother was washing clothes in the now-moved stream - and had Eagle lay the stinking salmon on top. The sounds in the box stopped suddenly, as a mountain cat stops when he scents prey. Then, the box began to shudder and shake. The wood creaked, then bulged, and then exploded into mere splinters as the bears and cats and skunks and other meat-eating animals fought over the mere scent of the salmon they had been denied for so long. Raven squawked in relief to see the black cloud of his brothers and sisters rise into the sky, and Eagle flapped off to join his cousins in the tallest trees, pausing only to call over his shoulder "Now bring back the light!"

Months went by. Raven's adopted Grandfather was so angry, his teeth marks adorned the walls and posts of the Great Cedar lodge from foundation to smokehole. He chewed through the front door and Raven's mother had to carve a new one. He chewed through the magic wards on the smokehole and spat them into the river, where they became the seals that guard the harbors and the porpoises that guard the uumiak. One day, the fish stores in the lodge were gone. The last piece of dried meat was eaten, and Grandfather could no longer crack open a bentwood box to grab a fresh animal to feed his family. He decided to go hunting and fishing, as he used to do. Raven saw his chance. Quick as a fox, he hurled the last box into the flames of the cooking fire and watched it as it began to smolder. The box began so smoke and swell in the fire, which began to absorb into the wood of the box itself. A whistle came from the cooking pit, and the glow from the box filled the whole of the Great Cedar Lodge. Raven covered his eyes in the presence of such light and cowered before the brilliance of the Celestial Bodies. With a crack that split the roof and threw Raven to the ground, the Sun, Moon and Stars exploded through the smokehole and back into the sky.

When he could move again, Raven opened his eyes. The fire was gone, he could see nothing. But slowly, oh so slowly, he saw the outline of the door through the hazy light of the smokehole. He stumbled outside, into a daylight the world hadn't seen for generations. And waiting to greet him was every living creature he could imagine, headed by Bear and Eagle. A representative of The People stepped forward. "Brother Raven," he said," we, The People, wish to thank you for bringing us back the light, water and food we so desperately missed. In thanks, we wish to name ourselves after you, to take your likeness as our crest, and your qualities as our own. We are now Haida, the People of the Raven." Another representative of The People stepped forward. "Brother Eagle," she cried,"Oh you of the sharpest eye and claw! We of The People also venerate Raven, but it was you who brought the Salmon that freed the animals. For your help to Raven, I wish to call myself and my descendants after you. I am now Tlingit, Woman of the Eagle."

And that is how Raven Lit the World.