February 27, 2005

The Epic Duet of Good and Evil

No, that isn't a typo. A few of us who have been known to try and pass for artsy types went to see the Longview Community Theater's latest production on Saturday night - Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.

In most black-vs.-white narratives, be they epics or morality plays or something else, good and evil eventually clash in some spectacular and highly visible form. Sometimes there is an enormous battle involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Sometimes there is a showdown on a dusty street. On a smaller, but no less vital, scale sometimes we simply see a battle of the conscience. Rarely, however, does one witness good and evil embroiled in a sing-off.

I didn't crank out this review nearly as soon as I meant to, so I am forced to be fairly brief. This is the 4th production I have attended at the Longview Community Theater, and the 2nd musical, and I have decided that the production value and general quality of their musicals is undoubtedly higher than regular plays. The performers they find have a lot of vocal talent, and this goes a long way towards making up for the inevitable minor gripes one will have with the imperfections of theatrical productions in a town of limited artistic resources.

There are a number of other very definite strengths that I have pinpointed. LCT does very well with costuming, and their prop department does a fantastic job of coming up with just the right things. The lighting is largely excellent, as are the musicians in the orchestra pit. The singing I have already praised, but it would not hurt to do so again. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the building and the lack of a sound system make solos very difficult to hear at times over the roar of the orchestra. However, all of the numbers involving half a dozen to twenty+ people were phenomenal.

The acting varies widely, but the leads are always at least competent. In this case I was slightly disappointed at first due to the lack of any significant physical transformation between Jekyll and Hyde (the actor wore his long hair in a ponytail as Jekyll, and let it fall loose as Hyde). However, by the time I heard the song where Jekyll and Hyde sing alternating lines (as the lighting shifted appropriately) I was satisfied both that this was all they were reasonably able to do, and that the actor playing the part was doing a wonderfully convincing job of changing his voice, manner, and personality as rapidly as could possibly be necessary.

If I hadn't been to see The King and I, I might have tried to gripe about accents, but really there was nothing wrong with them. No one was blatantly Texan, and I ask for very little more than that. The attempts at being Oriental were just painful, the attempts at being British were not. The plot left a bit to be desired, and of course it deviated a good bit from the original work, but . . . I'm not quite sure how to put this:

The last five minutes or so scared the bejeezes out of me because it was tracking heavily in the direction of maudlin Victorian melodrama. The words of Lady Bracknell kept floating through my head: "a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality." However, they pulled out hard in the end, and I was ultimately satisfied.

Scholl and I, sitting next to each other, made a number of fun connections from Watson's Brit Lit II class during the course of the play. This was only right, considering that the man himself was sitting directly behind us. As the lights came up, we turned and explained one of the more humorous connections that had been made (related to a line from Frankenstein). He was amused.

All in all, yet another enjoyable evening wiled away at the Longview Community Theater, and I look forward with great anticipation to their upcoming production of The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Posted by Jared at 02:49 AM | TrackBack

February 26, 2005

A Historian's Playground

Do you remember when you were a kid, sitting at home on a sunny day, bored because you still hadn't really learned to make your own fun and sustain it? Maybe you had a friend over, and the two of you were even more bored because (well, in my case) even reading wasn't an option since it couldn't involve your guest. Then, one of your parents (finding themselves somehow in possession of a coupla free hours, and knowing peace and leisure to be impossible with gloomy children in the house) would suggest a visit to the park a few blocks away.

And you and your friend and/or siblings would go out there, under the watchful eye of the adult on a nearby bench, and just attack that playground like the unconquered frontier it was. Every bar, slide, and pole had to be made use of as you expended those enormous reserves of energy you had back then (you know, the ones you should have been saving for college and beyond). All that brightly-colored metal and plastic was so fun and exciting to play on because it could be anything you wanted it to be . . . pirate ship or spaceship, hostile jungle or haunted jailhouse.

Well, I remember those days quite well (as I should . . . I couldn't have left them behind more than 10 years ago), but I had forgotten what it really felt like to experience the pure glee of conquering a new playground until Saturday morning. As part of my membership in the Webb Historical Society here on campus, I am required to volunteer 2 hours of time one Saturday a month at the Gregg County Historical Museum.

The museum is small, but it is packed to the bursting point with artifacts and exhibits of all kinds. I didn't examine most of the museum as closely as I might have liked, because we got straight to work when we arrived. The museum's staff (like everyone else) is currently in the process of going digital, which means that everything they have in their collection must be measured, weighed, photographed, recorded, and catalogued. Could anything be more fun?

I started off by donning a pair of white cotton gloves (so the oils from my hands wouldn't damage anything I touched), and helping to carry items upstairs to be entered into the computer. We confined ourselves to the "Bank President's Office" exhibit, and I found myself handling antique silver inkwells, soft black bowler hats, and various forms of obsolete currency and yellowing documents. In other words, I got to go to a museum and touch stuff.

Then, I got put in charge of the computer, which was also great fun. They had a great little computer program called "Past Perfect" which is made specifically for recording museum collections. The interface was simple but effective, and I had a marvellous time tracking down the appropriate pre-entered designation for each item type, inputting all of the data about each item, and inserting the digital pictures.

After we finished, the lady in charge treated us to a delicious lunch at the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant next-door. I then returned to LeTourneau for the afternoon D&D session. In short, it was quite the best waking time I've spent on a Saturday morning in the last 3 years (at least).

The joke here, of course, is that I haven't been awake for a Saturday morning in the past 3 years (at least). But it was still great fun, and I can't wait for the end of March to roll around so I can go back and mess around with more historical stuff.

Posted by Jared at 06:48 PM | TrackBack

February 25, 2005

Whither Bound?

Three years ago this month I was (for the first time in my life) almost out of short-term plan. I was running out of high school fast, and had not yet settled on a university to attend. I had long-term goals by the truckload, and the short-term had always kind of tended to work itself out naturally, but . . . Well, I never hear anyone talk about intermediate goals at all, and I've certainly never had any.

In this case, I wound up previewing at LeTourneau that month and decided that it felt right for me . . . Short-term taken care of for four more years. The long-term, as always, roils and writhes as various hopes and dreams bubble temporarily to the surface before sinking back out of sight for the present. My future is like poor man's stew. I toss in whatever comes along, stir well, taste regularly, say grace, and hope it's edible . . . after all, I can't throw it out.

All that to say that by late February of 2002, I knew where I'd be for four years and I knew where I wanted to be 10-15 years after that, and I wasn't in a position to put a lot of useful thought into what fell between.

Well, a lot can happen in three years: Things like changing majors, shifting priorities, making lifelong friends . . . etc. All of these and more have happened to me. And I have emerged from this process still knowing where I'll be for the next year and a half, and still knowing where I want to be within 10-15 years, and still having really no concrete concept of what is going to happen inbetween.

Then Wednesday night came along, and the Webb Historical Society held their monthly meeting. It was presided over by Dr. Coppinger and Dr. Johnson, and they spent an hour talking about graduate school. I had a vague idea about a year ago that I might possibly wish to wander in the general direction of grad school, but what with life happening and all, it kind of got shelved for further consideration at a later date.

Wednesday night reminded me of this, and I did a little online research as time permitted on Thursday. This site was of great help to me in getting a feel for various aspects of the decisions I would need to make. Everything that I saw made me more confident that I simply do not want to stop with a BA.

I also visited Dr. Coppinger (who is my academic advisor) in his office on Thursday afternoon. I told him that I would go to grad school (i.e. that I had the desire), and that I needed and wanted him to convince me that I could (that the means were not beyond my grasp) and that I should (that it would be worth my while with respect to my education and career). To make a long story short . . . he convinced me.

So . . . grad school then. I want my MA. Like, really. I'm leaving off any vague dreams of a PhD for later consideration. Much later. So, as to answering the 6 important questions:

Who? Me, stupid.

Why? The short answer: I have always been at least somewhat a creature of academia. This is where I thrive and excel, and it is where I find the most fulfillment. No matter where exactly I wind up and what I wind up doing, I want the additional education and self-actualization that I can get from pushing even further into my field of choice. I'm not looking at this as a hard push until I slam into a brick wall and can't go any further, but rather as a flapping and soaring to ever greater heights until I finally break through the cloud cover . . . or at least until the clouds aren't blocking as much of the sun as they still do now. Literature and narrative are my passions, and I'm nowhere near satisfied with the extent of my current explorations of them.

How? This question I'll have a hard time answering until I have solid answers to the other three. The oversimplified answer involves lots of elbow grease expended in heretofore unidentified directions. I don't know what sort of work I'll be doing or how it'll fit in, but it needs to make me enough money to be feasible without making it impossible to study and not burn out. Meanwhile, I'm working now . . . I'll be working this summer . . . And I'm setting things up for a nice, light course load during my senior year in the hopes of generating even more money.

When? Within three years . . . and that's all I know for sure. I might drop directly into it after graduating, or I might work for one year (or even two) to pay off a few LeTourneau loans and generate some sort of foundational fund that I can eat off of later. I don't know if I'll need a bit of time to stabilize, find my feet, and look around me right after college or not. And there are one or two other large factors to take into consideration. Hopefully I can bring the extraneous considerations into the fold sooner rather than later, because the ball needs to start rolling down some hill by the end of the summer at the absolute latest.

Where? Ah, yes . . . One mustn't discount the importance of this question, which is partially reliant on the next. At the moment, I haven't found any compelling reason to leave Texas for grad school. My connections, such as they are, are better in this state than in any other, and state residence is a financial factor at many schools. I have a still-growing list of about a dozen schools that I want to investigate with regard to all of the pertinent factors (money, size, faculty, available fields, etc.). So, that'll be going on, then . . .

What? As a double major, I will graduate from LeTourneau with a BA in History/Poli. Sci. and a BA in English. I love history and it is inextricably linked to the study of literature, but I am not at all interested in pursuing the study of history in grad school. Linguistics, too, is right out. Really, what I love to do most is read, write about what I've read, and just generally write about whatever strikes my fancy (fiction, nonfiction, philosophical ramblings . . . doesn't much matter). I could potentially study creative writing, and that might be the route I take, I suppose, but in the end I'll probably just devote myself to the study of literature. Which leaves open the question of what area to specialize in.

This one will be very difficult to answer, but I can pretty much already narrow it down to Britain or America, probably the former (but don't throw out any major European nations just yet). But . . . don't ask me to pick a time period until I absolutely have to. In Britain's case, anything from the late 1500s on is fair game (with a few periods, like Victorian, being more likely than others). In America's case, I'm not overly fond of anything before the Civil War, with the exception of Poe, Melville, etc. . . . but there's just a lot of good stuff. And one more consideration: Film Studies. I would be very sad if I blazed through grad school without even a glancing look at cinema. At least one school that I've looked at in Texas offers a minor in Film Studies (that's criticism, theory, and history). I absolutely adore the study of film, as I discovered in Watson's summer class last year, and I would probably be very nearly as happy there as in literature . . . in some ways more.

So I have a lot to think about, and a lot to talk about, and a lot to pray about. I'd probably pretty much be going nuts right now with trying to get everything straight if it weren't for something particularly helpful I've picked up in the past 21 years. The perfect vision offered by hindsight has, time and again, revealed the hand of God guiding my life in the proper directions . . . preparing me for future experiences and moving me towards areas that don't seem to make much sense at first, but later reveal an intricate and beautifully-planned design that is the perfect fit for where I want and need to be.

I can't tell you how many times I wondered why I might be growing up in Guatemala, and I can't even begin to ennumerate or quantify the difference it has made or the advantages it has provided (in the strangest areas!). When you think about it, it's rather odd too that I wound up at LeTourneau . . . I never would have if I hadn't had the bizarre idea that I wanted to be an engineer despite my love of reading. I still don't know what got into me with that, but . . . here I am because of it. After I visited, I said I'd come if God worked out the finances, and He did and continues to in unexpected ways.

And if I hadn't made such incredible and solid connections with certain people here just in that first semester and a half, I never would have stayed . . . And look at the difference that has made. The english program in particular is really very solid here and the teachers are just what I need. And what of all the people I wouldn't know and lessons I wouldn't have learned if I had bailed? It had to be LeTourneau.

Basically, I count myself extraordinarily lucky in that I can look back even at this young age and see something that makes sense . . . New reasons for why my life has been what it has been reveal themselves every day, but I can see a lot of the reasons already and there's just no way that I couldn't trust God, knowing what I know. I know everything will work the way it's supposed to, and instead of being worried about how exactly life will play out, I feel more like a little kid on Christmas Eve. The future is God's gift and I can't wait to see what's in it.

Posted by Jared at 06:12 PM | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

Income Tax Dodge #1134: Kill Milkman and Transfer Your Identity to Corpse


You Can't Take It With You by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart

Ardith- Penny, Alice, Gay Wellington
Gallagher- Rheba, Ed, Grand Duchess Olga, G-Man 2
Wilson- Paul, Henderson, Tony Kirby
Scholl- Mr. DePinna, Boris Kolenkhov, G-Man
Rachel- Essie, Mrs. Kirby
Uncle Doug- Donald, Mr. Kirby, G-Man 3
Myself- Grandpa Vanderhof

This play was a lot of fun to read, in spite of the minor obstacles to a smooth reading (three fewer people than I had hoped, and two different versions of the script). Nevertheless, we've had more difficult material to work with in the past, and the challenge just makes the result more entertaining for the most part. Especially when we've got Ardith and Scholl talking to themselves a good bit.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, I can't think of a great deal to say about this play outside of that. It's a zany family comedy that flirts with some fairly risque elements considering the year (1936). The connection, in particular, between sex and Wall Street was highly entertaining. But, as I say, my mind is almost completely blank regarding what more I could possibly say.

Oh, and sorry for giving away the ending in the title.

Posted by Jared at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

The Sudden Demise of the Devlin Gang

Well, it's that time of the week again. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last story. Your feedback is much appreciated, as always.

This week's story is unique because I wrote it on something of a dare. When I was in high school Asa and I were always in the midst of some intellectual or pseudointellectual debate/discussion. When it came to our discussions of various authors and their writings, Asa had many positive things to say about the works of Louis L'Amour. Naturally I was extremely derisive of any such opinions, and after reading through a book of short stories by the guy, I stated positively that I could outwrite him.

This, of course, was just me talking, and was really more on the level of being a tongue-in-cheek figure of speech rather than a serious statement. I really don't think L'Amour is a good writer, but whether I am one or not remains to be seen, and making such assertions in earnest is just tacky. Anyway, to make a short story long, I was taken up on my challenge.

I went home that night with an idea floating around in my head, and the story that appears beneath the fold is part of the result. The story I actually wrote is extremely short as I ended up trimming out the majority of the background material I had worked up. (Someday I might want to write that back in . . . because as it stands it is really short.) I returned to school the next day, story in hand, and shoved it in front of Asa. He read it through, and looked up at me with a huge grin. As nearly as I can remember, this is what he said:

"It's good, but it's not like Louis L'Amour. Too many big words."

Random aside: In my first draft I somehow spelled "sheriff," "sherrif" throughout the entire thing. I was so annoyed with myself when I discovered this.

And now, without further ado, my attempt at a Western.

The Sudden Demise of the Devlin Gang

Obviously it was High Noon when they rode slowly into town. It was the Devlin Gang, the current gang of bad men going about their chosen profession of terrorizing the west. There were six of them. Six lean, tough men with hard stares and itchy trigger fingers, all of them meaner than a sack of diamondbacks and twice as ornery. Old Doc Svenson was the first to notice their arrival as he left the saloon after his midday meal and strode across Main Street. He didn’t need a second look to tell him that trouble was riding towards him at an easy trot. He hightailed across the street without looking back and slammed the door of his office behind him. The sound of locks and bolts flying into place resounded all over the street, tipping the bandits off to the fact that their presence had been noticed.

Inside the saloon the slightly off-key music continued, totally oblivious to the outlaws that were stalking the vicinity. The six men stopped their horses in front of the building and flipped the reins casually over the hitching post before strolling easily up onto the wooden boardwalk. The heavy thud of their weighted boots striking the wood mingled with the jangling of the metal spurs they wore as they strode up to the swinging doors.

Inside the saloon a few poker games were just hitting their stride. The bartender peacefully wiped the counter and the organist played an easy melody, both were feeling lethargic after the lunch “rush.” The weather was hot and dry, sweaty weather that made shirts stick to sticky chests and brought out the flies in droves. It was an afternoon that should be used to take a leisurely nap. No work would get done on such an afternoon as this.

A thick, booted foot crashed through the doors and they flew back on their hinges with a bang that shattered the peaceful silence like a shotgun blast. A beefy gunslinger strutted in followed by his five sidekicks. The music quit. The poker games froze. The bartender quit wiping the counter and gulped audibly.

“Clear out! All of ya!” the big guy slurred with a tongue that was thick from thirst. He needn’t have asked, and he certainly didn’t need to say it twice. Chairs hit the saloon floor like lassoed cattle as their occupants shot out from the tables and slid out of the doors as quickly as possible. The organist and the bartender were right behind them.

One of the other outlaws, a skinny bowlegged young man stepped in front of the bartender before he could leave. A long, sharp finger jabbed the terrified man’s chest as the bandit sneered, “Not you, stupid. You’ve got to pour the drinks.”

The bartender turned without a word or a sound and shot back behind his bar, ready and willing to serve. All six men ambled over and leaned up against it. “Whiskey,” one of them ordered. “Six rounds. Straight.”

The bartender looked like he wished to melt into the floor and never come up again. They could almost see his knees smacking against each other underneath the counter as his bone-dry mouth tried to form words. “I . . .” he began before hesitating again. “I got my orders. I cain’t s-serve ya.” His eyes pleaded silently, Please don’t kill me. It ain’t my fault. There was a loud creak as six hammers cocked on six six-shooters, all of them pointed at various spots on his torso and head. He didn’t put up much of a fight. In fact, he didn’t put up any fight. Like any intelligent hombre he took hold of the whiskey bottle and poured six rounds, shaky hands spilling nearly half the bottle in the process.

“Where can we find the sheriff of this town?” the big one asked after downing his drink in a single shot.

The bartender tried to speak again, and was unsuccessful. The Devlin gang was known for sheriff killings, twelve in the last two months had died with their boots on under the guns of these men. The bartender’s struggle finally yielded some results and he managed to get out a quick “I ain’t rightly sure.”

“Well, you just get yourself out of here and find him for us. Tell him we want to see him . . . outside. We’ll take care of the whiskey for ya. Heh, heh, heh.” The laugh was dry and without humor, as from a man who rarely exercised it. The bartender left before the outlaw’s hand had found the whiskey bottle, which is to say, pretty quick.

Nobody watched him fly across the street and pound on a door, and so none of them noticed that he wasn’t knocking on the jailhouse door. He wasn’t anywhere near it, in fact. He was pounding away at Doc Svenson’s. He came back about fifteen minutes later, pants pocket bulging. Again, no one noticed.

“Sheriff said he’ll be seeing you boys pretty soon,” the bartender managed and busied himself with a new bottle of whiskey. He turned his back on the men, presumably afraid to look at them, and popped the fresh bottle open. Six more rounds were poured and downed.

“We’re much obliged to you,” said Slim, with a nasty leer. “And I’m sure that sheriff will be too, once we’re through with him.” Raucous laughter filled the room as the gang toasted another round “to the sheriff”. The mood was becoming downright festive.

“Alright you greenhorns,” said the big one, finally. “Let’s get on out there before you’re all roaring drunk.” He stood and led the way towards the door. Not a single one made it that far.

Slim went down first, hitting the floor halfway through a heavy snore. Three more dropped like flies after him as the last two swayed unsteadily on their feet. Another one fell, leaving only the largest of the six still standing. He turned slowly back around to face the bar, leveling an accusing finger at the bartender.

“You!” he said in helpless fury. “You put something in the whiskey, you yellow-bellied sidewinder.” His groping fingers found his gun and dragged it painfully out of the holster. He swung it up over his head and started to bring it slowly and inexorably to bear on the object of his anger. “I knowed I shoulda shot you the second I laid eyes on ya, you miserable . . .” A shot cut short whatever he had been going to say and the gun flew out of his hand, shooting sparks before it dropped. With a muffled groan, cut short by a loud snore, the bandit crumpled and dropped after it.

Doc Svenson strolled through the doors, holstering his gun. “Nice work, Sheriff,” he said pleasantly.

“Thanks, Doc.” The bartender headed over to the pile of sleeping men, shedding his apron to reveal the shiny, five-pointed badge underneath. “Looks like we caught ourselves a pretty nice-sized reward here. What price are their worthless hides up to now? Was it $5,000 apiece alive and $2,500 apiece dead?”

“I believe it was, Sheriff. We can do some mighty fine things in this town with $30,000 dollars.”

“We surely can, Doc. We surely can. Now help me get these wild desperadoes over to the jailhouse and I’ll shoot off a telegram to the District Marshall.”

The two men each grabbed a couple of limbs and started dragging men across the street to the jail. The Devlin gang had just experienced a nasty reversal of fortune, sudden demise, so to speak. Who would ever have expected a bartender to be the sheriff?

Posted by Jared at 06:11 PM | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Kate Chopin's Long Walk Off a Short Pier

Welcome to a new episode of Late-Night Lit journals, or "Even More Fictional Women Wind Up Dead."

Seriously, as I wrote all these journals over the course of an evening, I couldn't help noticing a strange and disturbing trend. Daisy Miller, taking a hint from that immortal piece of chameleonic advice ("When in Rome . . ."), died of the aptly named Roman fever. Mother Shipton quit eating (a surefire recipe for starvation). Piney Woods and The Duchess (NOT LESBIANS) shuffled off the mortal coil in each others' arms. And . . . Well, heck. I'll be danged if Edna Pontellier didn't up and decide to cork off, too. At least she kept me guessing . . . waited until the last paragraph.

I waded through a rather lengthy and drawn-out story, fraught with spiritual growth and moral development (in the Romantic, not the Christian sense), only to have our jolly heroine strip naked and attempt to swim across the Gulf of Mexico. And yes, that does make the title of this post something of a pun. Anyway . . . Let's roll with a more conventional summary. Prepare to feel my pain.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Pontelliers (Edna, her husband Leonce, and their two boys) spend every summer in a quaint little spot on the Louisiana coast with other people like themselves (wealthy natives of New Orleans). There are the Ratignolles, the Lebruns (who own the collection of cottages), Mademoiselle Reisz, and . . . so forth. For Edna Pontellier, though, this summer is different. She is cultivating a pleasant friendship with young Robert Lebrun, who has latched himself onto a different married woman every summer since he was but a lad.

Edna's husband is affectionate but distracted. He loves her in his own way, but he takes her for granted. His weeks are spent conducting his business in New Orleans, visiting his family only on the weekends. Large portions of his visits are spent in the local pool hall. Edna herself, leaving her children in the care of their nurse, spends her days bathing in the sea with Robert or working at her hobby (sketching and painting and such). Yes, you should already know where this is going.

And, almost before they have time to notice what is going on, she and Robert suddenly find themselves dangerously close to the awkward and completely unspoken position of being more than just friends. Not long after this comes an evening of general merriment among the guests. During a lull in the entertainment, Robert entreats Mademoiselle Reisz to play for Mrs. Pontellier. Edna is enraptured by the music, and the performance is quickly followed by a sojourn to the beach by all parties for a moonlight swim.

Edna has been attempting to learn how to swim all summer, but thus far has been too afraid to really swim alone. On this night, however, something about the music and the moon and the spirit within her prompts her to strike out with a firm stroke. Caught up in the exhiliration of swimming she goes out farther than she means to and is frightened, but has no trouble returning to shore. Her husband pooh-poohs her small fright, and Robert ends up escorting her back to the cottages. They converse, and then he leaves her and she rests outside while waiting for her husband to return.

Something new has awoken inside of her, and when her husband returns she defies his request that she enter the house, asserting that she will stay outside all night. A small spat erupts, and he stays outside smoking cigars and drinking wine until she gets sleepy and goes to bed. But she is a different person. She is woman, hear her roar . . . etc.

And, now that we have reached the title character of this meandering tale, the rest should be easy. Just as Edna feels she has reached an understanding with Robert, he decides that now would be a really good time to go to Mexico (a plan he has contemplated for years). Feeling completely adrift and forlorn, Edna mucks about for the rest of the summer and then returns to New Orleans. Back home again she begins to shirk her duties as hostess, mother, and housekeeper. She never receives visitors, preferring instead to wander the city without telling anyone where she is going, or retiring to her attic studio to paint whatever strikes her fancy.

Her husband, worried, consults the family doctor, who instructs to let the matter be. He takes the advice, even in the face of some harsh words from his visiting father-in-law (an old Confederate colonel) when Edna decides not to attend her sister's wedding in Kentucky. Not long after this, Leonce leaves on an extended business trip to New York and the two sons are sent to visit their grandmother.

Edna, missing Robert, who enquires about her through Mademoiselle Reisz but never writes her himself, wanders languidly into the arms of the dandy Alcee Arobin. An affair ensues. Languidly. She feels she has cheated on . . . Robert. Edna decides to move into a small house around the block from hers, tired of living in Leonce's abode. She celebrates the move with a disastrous dinner party which reminds her of Robert.

Robert returns and she meets him purely by chance while waiting for Mademoiselle Reisz to return to her rooms. Things are awkward between them at first, but after several days they meet by chance again and the truth comes out. Robert is in love with her, but will not be dishonorable while she is married. That was the reason for his trip to Mexico, and again the reason for his avoiding, even though a momentary lapse in his judgment brought him back to New Orleans.

She convinces him that they should be together, but just as they are about to be, Edna receives an urgent summons from Madame Ratignolle, who is about to give birth to a baby and requires emotional support. Robert promises to wait, and Edna goes. Madame Ratignolle entreats her repeatedly to "think of the children" and the family doctor, walking her home, asks her to come talk to him. She re-enters her house to find Robert gone, leaving behind a note saying he has decided to do the honorable thing in not committing adultery. She responds by returning unannounced to the cottages where she spent the summer before and proceeding in the Whitman-ian fashion outlined above. The end.

I'm sorry if that's a bit sketchy, but for a book where nothing really actually happened, there was a lot of random character development going on. Ain't that always the way? Hopefully I still have a bit left in me for the analysis.

This book is full of symbolism, and that is what interested me the most. Edna's awakening as a woman, fully in charge of herself, comes as she learns to swim alone for the first time. Her death in the ocean is heralded by the plummet into the water of a bird with a broken wing. Arobin, as they begin to become intimate, bares a saber wound on his wrist for her to examine and she becomes sick. Later, Robert accuses her of being cruel, saying it is as though she wishes him to show her a wound just so she can have the fun of looking at it.

What, precisely, does all this mean? Well, it would seem to indicate that women ought to cast of the shackles the chain them to husbands, children, and obligations in general, and live in whatever manner pleases them best. There are simply too many conscious, biting asides regarding the plight of women for this not to be true. However, the tragic ending of the affair does not seem to reinforce the message very strongly, somehow.

Maybe I'm just tired, but I just don't have a lot of patience with the situation in general. This should not be nearly so difficult. Robert shouldn't be making passes at married women as a matter of course. Edna and Leonce shouldn't be allowing him to indulge his fancy. Edna should care about her children and home and husband . . . Not that she must neglect everything else. It is a difficult position that I am analyzing from, as I will by default have very little credibility if I seem to be arguing that a woman's place is in the home.

I don't particularly believe that. I mostly leave that question up to the woman, since I'm not one. However, it seems to me that once the woman has answered the question for herself, she oughtn't to be swapping canoes midstream (as it were) and leaving everyone in the lurch. Her husband's behavior in the story certainly does not deserve anyone's approval, but then, we are not meant to sympathize with him. We are meant to sympathize with Edna Pontellier, and I simply can't do that at every point in the story. I feel sorry that she has begun the novel in a bad position, and proceeds to get herself into several more throughout, but after all, she makes all of her own choices.

And maybe that's the point right there. Right or wrong, choose for yourself. I find that, at least, a good deal easier to put up with, in spite of the awful potential the philosophy possesses. Free will cannot be denied, regardless of the consequences.

Posted by Jared at 04:30 AM | TrackBack

Bret Harte and the Outpoke of Flaster's Cat

Yes, I am mocking my fellow "lit students" again. No, I'm not sorry about it, unless by "it" you mean the fact that they are in the class.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Bret Harte

Fantastic short story . . . reminded me quite a bit of O. Henry, but with a gloomier ending than he normally supplied. My four-word summary runs something like this: "Snow falls, everybody dies." Somehow I don't think I can get away with just that, so here we go.

John Oakhurst, professional gambler and temporary resident of a small Western settlement called Poker Flat, awakes the morning after a reprehensible run of lawlessness to find his limited influence with the townsfolk rapidly on the wane. Escaping summary execution by an uncomfortably narrow margin, Oakhurst is exiled from the town with a handful of other undesirables: a scarlet woman known as "The Duchess," the local witc-- errr, herbalist, "Mother Shipton," and "Uncle Billy," shameful drunkard, ornery cuss, and all-around no-goodnik.

The four strike out for Sandy Bar, camping that night near a deserted cabin in the mountains several miles away from town. Here they are joined by "The Innocent" (a man named Tom Simson, once fleeced by Oakhurst before having his money returned and leaving the saloon a wiser man and loyal friend of the gambler). The Innocent has his 15-year old fiancée, the hilariously-named Piney Woods, in tow, and the two decide it would be a good idea to set up shop among the outcasts (not knowing, of course, that this is what they have become).

The next morning, Oakhurst experiences his second rude awakening in a row. The treacherous Uncle Billy has absconded with the mules, and the rest of the party is fairly well snowed in. Oakhurst avoids communicating the true gravity of the situation to Piney and The Innocent, who offer to share their provisions and generally contribute to the group morale as they all try to wait out the weather.

As the food and firewood are carefully rationed over the course of several days, the situation becomes steadily more desperate. Mother Shipton, who has been hoarding her rations and starving herself, leaves them in the care of Oakhurst to give to Piney, and then proceeds to die of . . . well, starvation (duh).

Oakhurst makes a pair of snowshoes out of a pack saddle and sends The Innocent to Poker Flat to get help . . . He has two days if he is to have any hope of returning to find the survivors still alive. Oakhurst leaves the camp to see The Innocent off a little ways, and doesn't return. Piney and The Duchess die in each others' arms and are buried beneath a blanket of snow. When the rescuers make their slightly belated entrance, Oakhurst's grave is discovered nearby, marked with the deuce of clubs and an epitaph announcing the cause of death as "a streak of bad luck." Lying beneath the snow with one of his own bullets in his heart, he is declared both the strongest and weakest of his fellow outcasts.

This is a great story that is really brought to life by its characters. Like almost everything we've read this semester, the story takes our moral expectations and turns them on their ear. The townsfolk who force the outcasts to leave are no doubt guilty of indulging in the same vices as the exiles. It is certainly to be expected that a new gang of the same types of people will be welcomed back within a very short time of the departure of the first group. The ritual cleansing of the town is meaningless but for the temporary salving of guilty consciences.

Meanwhile, the exiles display all sorts of admirable qualities (all save Uncle Billy, the only really bad apple in the barrel). Oakhurst, though a gambler, is a strong, courageous leader who operates under his own strict code of ethics which includes a great sense of personal honor, nobility, compassion, and respect for his fellow man. The Duchess and Mother Shipton rise to the challenge of protecting the innocence of the young Piney, ironically taking on the role of mothers to her.

Mother Shipton, in particular, makes the ultimate sacrifice to try and keep Piney alive. The Duchess and Piney comfort each other during their last moments, and The Duchess' redemption is apparent from the innocent expression on her dead face. Oakhurst's death, too, represents self-sacrifice . . . at least partially. Having fashioned a pair of snow shoes, he could easily have used them himself, with the handy excuse of going to get help besides. Somehow, though, I think he knows that rescue will be too late, and having sent off the young man he saved once before, he is faced with the looming prospect of imminent death (not just his own, but that of the women as well).

Having made the final push to ensure the salvation of at least one of the group, Oakhurst is unable to face the horrors of death from starvation or exposure. Nor does he wish to witness the deaths of the two women. He has done all that he can do, and he reserves for himself the gambler's right to fold when his hand is up.

Harte, as the author of the story, knows best, I'm sure, but the more I examine the situation, the less I see Oakhurst's final action as weakness. It seems like a perfectly rational action made by a level-headed individual who knew that his time had come, one way or another. Because of this, I have the most annoying sense that I'm missing something important. I even toyed briefly with the idea that Oakhurst had shot The Innocent and then made it look like his body lay there before donning the snow shoes and escaping . . . Except that really doesn't work. I guess Harte and I just have a difference of opinion. Go figure.

And to all you retarded homophobes out there (be you Californians, or merely stupid): There aren't any lesbians in this story. Drop it before Coppinger has to hurt you.

*shakes head* Little turkeys . . .

Posted by Jared at 02:08 AM | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

Henry James: My Excuse to Say "Ingénue" Repeatedly

Prior to this reading, my contact with Henry James consisted solely of a fair amount of enjoyment from reading his eerie The Turn of the Screw, and naught but the most shockingly dismal reviews of his novel The American from a good friend and fellow English major. I didn't know quite what to expect of Daisy Miller, his classic story of a young American ingénue running loose (that's a key word) in Europe.

But before I proceed any further, allow me to get a little something out of my system:

ingénue ingénue ingénue ingénue ingénue ingénue ingénue ingénue

There. I think I can proceed normally now. Note link to full text of novel, which you will not be following, but which I have thoughtfully provided anyway.

Daisy Miller by Henry James

The novel follows the experiences of the simple and innocent Daisy as she moves with her equally simple family (mother, young brother, and their guide Eugenio) through the cultivated circles of Americans who reside in Europe. Her story is seen through the eyes of an American resident of Geneva, Winterbourne, who has a bit of a romantic stake in the story (at least at first).

To make a long story as short as possible, Winterbourne first encounters Daisy and her family in Switzerland where he is visiting his aunt. Almost immediately, his own impression of her comes into conflict with the perceptions of everyone around him. What he views as a disarming naiveté, the upper crust see as flirtatious vulgarity. He is warned away from Daisy numerous times during the novel, particularly by his aunt.

Daisy is a very immature, headstrong girl, and her mother does very little to rein her in. Left with the power to make her own decisions, she impetuously winds up alone with Winterbourne on a sight-seeing expedition. They grow closer to each other, and Daisy is upset to hear that Winterbourne's visit is drawing to an end. She makes him agree to visit her in Rome in the winter, to which he willingly acquiesces, considering that he will be visiting his aunt at any rate.

Upon arriving in Rome, Winterbourne finds that Daisy is developing quite a reputation among the other Americans for her associations with various undesirables, most notably the faux gentleman Giovanelli, with whom she is very familiar. Her behavior grows steadily more wild and uninhibited, and consequences to health or reputation don't seem to matter at all. The Americans in Rome grow less and less tolerant of her behavior even as Winterbourne is mystified by it.

Seeing how intimate she has grown with Giovanelli, he distances himself somewhat from the situation, but does what he can to help (which is very little). The story draws to a close when Daisy and Giovanelli risk catching Roman fever despite Winterbourne's warning. Upon hearing his apathetic response to the possibility that she might be engaged, she declares herself equally apathetic at the prospect of catching her death.

And then she does.

At the funeral, Winterbourne learns from Giovanelli that he has misjudged Daisy's character, and that she truly was the helpless innocent he originally believed her to be. He informs his aunt of this fact, declares that he has been away from America for too long, and returns to live in Geneva.

This book really reminded me of A Room With a View by E. M. Forster, which I read over Christmas break. The only really important difference is that Forster's ingénue is male, and winds up married at the end of the story. I think I prefer that book to this, for various reasons . . . but that is neither here nor there.

Leaving out any snide remarks about Daisy's possession of the classic female tragic flaw, I have to wonder about calling it that. Daisy's innocence is most certainly tragic, but does Henry James consider it a flaw? Considering carefully the behavior of the other characters in the story, I find this highly doubtful. Throughout the story, the desirability of Daisy's innocent nature is highlighted, and when she is led astray it is not her fault, but the fault of those around her.

Nearly everyone she encounters knows a good deal more about how the world works (or, at least, how their own little world works) than she does. Assuming that she knows as much as they, they also assume that she is using a false innocence to disguise her questionable pursuits. This is never portrayed in a positive light. As Winterbourne attempts to balance on the knife's edge without clearly taking a side, his relationship with Daisy quite naturally deteriorates whenever he begins to trust his original instinct less.

It is the continued abuse, exploitation, ridicule, and mistrust of this ideal which lead to its eventual destruction. It deserved care and protection, and it was shunned . . . but it is almost as if the only concerned party who has a chance of carrying anything away from the whole affair is the reader. Winterbourne and Giovanelli are the only two who express any remorse over what has transpired.

Giovanelli's revelation is a plot device, and his humble admissions are soon replaced by the semi-polished veneer he maintains. Winterbourne, after a soul-cleansing confession of his own, travels full circle and winds up right back where he started. Is he any wiser?

It is left to the reader, then, to ensure that poor Daisy has not died in vain. It is we who must learn and impart the lesson of the story. Unpolished innocence is superior to cultivated worldliness.

Personally, I remain unconvinced. Innocence is a precious thing, particularly among the very young. However, as with any delicate blossom, the time comes when it must wilt and fade away . . . I say fade because it is better that it disappear gradually, rather than be snapped unceremoniously from its stalk by rough hands. Nevertheless, preserve innocence beyond its time and you court disaster, unless you plan on keeping your bloomin' flowers safe in their greenhouse pots forever.

If innocence is sheltered beyond the time when it should expire by natural means, someone is almost certainly in for a rude awakening sooner or later. It is to be hoped that, unlike Daisy, their innocence is all they lose (speaking, as we were, of flowers).

Posted by Jared at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

Is that a lit book in your pocket, or did you feel Emily today?

The title above is a quote from Martinez, in case you were wondering . . . and the quote came from a lunchtime discussion of the preceding American Lit class wherein Dr. Coppinger had actually asked us the latter half of the above question.

Anyway, there's a lot I could say about Emily Dickinson. She has a pretty hardcore fanbase amongst the more starry-eyed denizens of my field of study. And I know a fair number of people who are still bitter about being made to read some of her poetry in high school. Personally, poetry isn't my special area, but I do love a good poem. And Emily Dickinson wrote some pretty good poems. However, she also wrote quite a few incomprehensible poems . . . especially to a hapless high schooler stuck with a starry-eyed, gushing prof.

Anyway, I would say that Dickinson wrote more poems by herself than I've probably read by all poets combined at this stage in my career. And she didn't just write about one thing. There are a lot of worthwhile themes in her poetry that I could examine . . . and a number of poems which simply provide excellent reading with their vivid and vivacious descriptions of nature.

However, in this case I have selected the six poems from the assigned reading that appear to me to be about mourning for lost loved-ones and questioning God. These six poems, all quite short, can be found beneath the fold.

I must note, before proceeding, that as subjective as criticism of poetry often is, Dickinson's poetry seems to me to be especially wide open to interpretation. As such, I'm just kinda speculating here. It would be really nice to know exactly what is going on in her life as she writes each of these poems, but there it is . . .

To summarize briefly, the first poem as a straightforward statement boils down to: The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away . . . sometimes more than once, and sometimes taketh happens without giveth.

The second poem is a description of the numb feeling that accompanies a great loss, second stage in the cycle of mourning she has outlined in the last line of the piece. The comparison is between mourning a loved one and passing through a freezing winter. This is what you, too, will experience . . . if you survive.

The third poem questions God's motives in giving life to the speaker. Ignorance, apparently, is bliss. The speaker wants to know why she was given the gifts of reason and life when they are accompanied by so much misery. I have asked these same questions, and have found answers that satisfy me. Far more difficult, however, is watching others that you are close to ask the same questions, and knowing that your answers cannot possibly hold any comfort for them. This I have done as well.

The fourth poem once again addresses the mourning process. This time it speaks of the pain and necessity of moving on, storing away emotions until the time when they will be required again. There is certainly a faint glimmer of hope here that "we will all meet by and by," but when read together with some of the other poems, how sincere is this hope?

The fifth poem may seem like a random choice at first, but it really struck me when I read it, so I included it. It is about the callous and perfunctory side of nature which terminates life and beauty indiscriminately while God looks down and pronounces that it is good. This poem, of course, fails to address the fact that we live in a fallen world. However, I'm not really up for spouting the party line on this one right now. Let's leave easy answers behind for the moment. More on that further down.

The sixth poem, dealing with loss in a very personal manner, links back to the first poem with its reference to the number two in association with periods of sorrow and mourning. The last two lines never fail to move me, because I have experienced at least my fair share of partings, and I hate them. And there is a very profound truth in making the connection between parting and the torments of hell.

Now, let's dive right in. First, the picture I present here is rather one-sided. I know this. There is a good deal of joy and sunshine in some of Dickinson's other poetry. But the joy is never merely a thin, artificial thing used to hide pain and suffering . . . They exist side by side, and I think there is true depth to be found in the poetry written by a sad or angry or confused Emily.

At the very least, Dickinson asks some hard questions and makes some unpleasant observations without providing trite answers (because she has none) and without brushing negative emotions lightly aside (because life isn't that easy). It is because life is not always easy that the answers to Emily's questions are hard for me to supply. When life is easy, the answers to questions like "Why do we suffer?" seem all too apparent. But have you ever told someone who was suffering that "them's the breaks" because we live in a fallen world? Did it help?

Just because something is true doesn't mean that being aware of it is particularly beneficial. I don't really know whether Dickinson realizes that these things are true, but neither do I think that knowing why life is sometimes painful would have made her life any happier.

I sense a great deal of isolation from Emily Dickinson's poetry. There is a sense of emotions being buried rather than worked through . . . questions asked of no one which go unanswered . . . being knocked down by life with no guarantees that life will pick her back up or refrain from knocking her down again.

Even if one possesses all the answers to life's mysteries, the way to comfort someone who is in pain is to suffer with them. I can't tell that Emily Dickinson ever had someone who suffered with her. That, if true, is far more tragic than any losses she experienced. To quote Spider Robinson (shut up, I can't believe it either):

"Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased - thus do we refute entropy."


I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod;
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels, twice descending,
Reimbursed my store.
Burglar, banker, father,
I am poor once more!


After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--was it He that bore?
And yesterday--or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.


Of Course—I prayed—
And did God Care?
He cared as much as on the Air
A Bird—had stamped her foot—
And cried "Give Me"—
My Reason—Life—
I had not had—but for Yourself—
'Twere better Charity
To leave me in the Atom's Tomb—
Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb—
Than this smart Misery.


The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth, --

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.


Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.
The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.


My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Posted by Jared at 07:48 PM | TrackBack

February 20, 2005

Walt Whitman, Sexy Beast of Nature . . . Yahonk!

Well, I haven't posted a lit journal in a really long time (since last May) . . . and it's been even longer since I've written one. But, as my readers should know, I have a batch of five coming due on Tuesday, so . . . here we go again.

Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

First of all . . . Walt Whitman. Wow. What a special guy. He reminds me very much of Oscar Wilde in that he built an enormous image for himself in his own time and place, simply because he had a style and a message all his own. After that the similarities disintegrate fairly quickly, but that is what his unashamed passion for and revelry in nature, simplicity, and the common man remind of . . . (Wilde, of course, reveled in decadence).

His poem, "Song of Myself," originally untitled, is in many ways a religious document. However, despite that title, he is not the god of his own religion . . . merely the high priest or chief prophet. I do not sense any conceit or false pride in this poem, merely a genuine faith in his dogma and an earnest longing that others will read and believe. Rather I should say that all of his false pride is attached to the entirety of the human race, not just to himself. No less wrong, certainly, but somehow easier to swallow.

The poem is so incredibly alive. It flows freely without constraint of rhyme scheme or meter . . . This in itself serving as the definitive statement on how Whitman lives his own life and why it is the best way for everyone. Its 52 stanzas are about life, love, nature, knowledge, freedom . . . all of these presented as the ideals Whitman believed they should be. Life should be lived in perfect freedom: laughing, loving, and . . . cavorting in nature. The constraints of civilization, from laws to prejudices, need not apply. All knowledge should be acquired from living in nature and interacting with nature. Everything you need to know to live and be happy can be learned from watching a sunrise or playing in ocean surf.

Societal conventions and norms are unnecessary, constraining, and probably harmful . . . This goes for everything from formal etiquette to church attendance to proper attire . . . or, for that matter, any attire. It is perhaps on this point that I take the most serious issue with his philosophy because . . . Dude, Walt . . . Don't nobody want to see that. Nuh-uh. Just slide it right back on and step on back. Leaving your hat on in the house is one thing, but if that's all you're leaving on we have issues.

Certainly my favorite thing about Whitman is the wonderful humanitarian aspect of his character that surfaces in the poetry. He speaks of loving people, all people, equally . . . He doesn't discriminate based on gender or race or age. He speaks of giving aid to the suffering and dying. He actually thinks he can help everyone, and that the world will be a better place for following his credo. His supreme confidence in this is somewhat contagious . . . or would be if it weren't for, say, the 20th century.

It is impossible for me to think of Whitman in connection with his poetry without picturing a self-made "tall tale" hero of epic renown. Like Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, or Pecos Bill, thoughts of Walt Whitman bring to mind an immense figure who wanders the sparsely inhabited regions of young (teen-aged?) America. He is probably naked, but that immense white beard maintains a show of modesty for the sake of my too-vivid imagination. He covers an enormous area with his huge stride, and whenever he approaches civilization he leaves nothing but wilderness behind with every step. He is helper, teacher, and savior to everyone he meets . . . pioneer and native alike. He is, oxymoronically, something of a Bacchanalian Christ-figure.

I enjoy "Song of Myself." To anyone who thinks it a bit too full of chutzpah, I refer you to my earlier statements regarding same . . . And to anyone who finds his ideology just a bit too hard to swallow, I submit that, after all, it's several steps above the ever-popular, always-nauseating "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Posted by Jared at 01:52 PM | TrackBack

February 17, 2005

Fate Worse Than Death

Well, thank you all for your encouraging comments regarding last week's fictional submission. I enjoyed writing it, and a few people seem to have enjoyed reading it. At the moment, that's all I really care about. I wish I could say that all of the above would be true of my second completed endeavor.

Thinking back, I am virtually positive that this story was not written for a class assignment. However it was written during a time when Asa and I had spent many an hour discussing the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and I was actually working my way slowly through his Complete Works. So, naturally, I decided to see if I could write something Poe-esque.

The result scared the bejeezes out of me. I came up with a plot, and then I promptly started thinking like someone else. Never, before or since, have I been so lost in what I was writing (which may explain why, in my opinion, the story fairly drips with outrageous melodrama). When I finally finished, I was shaking. I felt dark, morbid, depressed . . . I decided, first, that I now understood something of why Poe was such a frigging nutjob, and second, that I would never try to write like him again.

Anyway, not really my best work. Far from it, actually . . . But I said I was going to try to avoid criticizing myself, didn't I?

One final note: The very last sentence of the story is a paraphrase of an actual line from Poe . . . I believe it was the description of the gallows from "The Black Cat" . . . which Asa had been quoting somewhat obsessively for a few weeks.

Fate Worse Than Death

My name is . . . You see! I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Not now. Nothing really matters now. How long have I been in this cell? Weeks now? Months? Maybe even years. It is impossible to tell time in this windowless shoebox. Nothing here but a bed, a table, a chair, a small pot in the corner, and these four gray walls. I have stared at them for many an hour. They never change. Artificial light bathes my little cubicle, coming from somewhere I can’t see up in the ceiling. And there’s the door, of course. It blends in perfectly with the wall. There are no openings in it, just a small slot in the bottom for my food to enter.

Why am I here? If you asked I couldn’t tell you. I’ve spent whole days trying to discover that myself. As I said before, though, that point is now moot. I’m about to leave. An escape? No, of course not. There is no escape from this nightmare, save by one route. Death. And so, to death I shall go. I have known that for several hours now, ever since I woke up and saw It.

It was the first thing I laid my eyes upon as I opened them. That little piece of rope, hanging so innocently from the ceiling in the center of my tiny room. Its single eye was staring at me then, even as it does now. The eye of a noose. We stared at each other for a long time before I knew for certain that here, at last, was my escape. Here was the manner in which I would be free forever. This time my salvation will not be snatched from my grasp as it has so many times before.

And so, confident of my success, I’ll bide my time a while. I can leave whenever I wish, but first there is a small matter I wish to take care of. Perhaps it is only vanity, I do not know, but I should like to leave a small record of myself behind. Maybe no one will ever read it, but it will be here for the reading nonetheless. I’m using the end of my spoon, saved from the meal I think of as “breakfast,” the first meal I eat upon waking. The paint on these walls is thin, only a single coat. The words I am writing show up clear and strong in shining white relief against the cold gray.

Until just three days ago I had not an inkling of what I was doing here. Still I do not, but ideas begin to suggest themselves to my mind. I do not know how or when or why I came to this awful prison. I am sure that I asked many times, begged, screamed, pleaded when I first arrived in this place. I no longer remember. Every detail of my capture or arrest, whichever it was, has been erased; wiped out by a deadly fever that nearly claimed my life some weeks ago. Would that it had, but somehow I pulled through and the recovery process was as long as it was lonely.

Enough! I digress. Those prolonged three days ago, on that morning, (for morning I call it when I first wake), I beheld It. Not the It which hangs now from the ceiling, beckoning me, but another It, with a purpose no less clear. It was a small revolver.

I examined it immediately, of course. It was loaded with a single bullet. For a long time I contemplated this instrument of Death, even as it seemed to be contemplating me. Fool that I was my first thought was to take it, and to hide it, and to use it as an aid in escaping. It took very little time to see that that plan would never aid me in any way. I had not seen a living soul, that I could remember since the fever at least. The probability of a decent opportunity was slim, perhaps nonexistent. Besides, my jailers, (I still thought of them as such before I recognized them as fiends), obviously had a purpose in placing this weapon here. I was sure that that reason was not to see me escape. What other purpose might it serve? I racked my brain repeatedly. Nothing came to mind. Surely it was not placed here for my amusement. My captors cared little enough about that. At long last my mind lit on the only possible answer. The gun was there to assist in my own death. Not an execution, but rather a suicide.

My first reaction was, of course, resistance. The self-preservation instinct of the human body is strong, but I soon realized the futility of resistance. What would my instincts be preserving? The miserable, trapped existence of a captive soul? I did not wish to travel that road any longer. Better to submit to the will of whatever entities held me here. Better to travel the road they had chosen for me, rather than a road I did not wish to choose for myself. Once all of these thoughts had turned themselves over in my head, I resolved firmly to end my existence. I resolved to end it with courage and fortitude, being unable to think of a more fitting way to succumb to the devilish machinations of my foes.

Once resolved, the act was an easy one to carry out. My body acted for me. I placed the revolver against my temple. An involuntary flinch at the touch of that cold, steel finger warned me that there were rebel elements in my being. But I would not be deterred. I pulled in a deep breath and fixed a defiant gaze at the uncaring doorway. My finger pulled the trigger almost without conscious thought and the deafening roar of the shot filled my world.

I needn’t even relate that I failed in my attempted suicide. How else might I still be here, my soul a hostage of my body even now, had the gun succeeded in ending my misery? Alas, the gun was not armed to kill in the way that I had thought. The bullet was a blank, and succeeded only in raising a false hope of release. With a cry of dismay I hurled it against the door, which remained deaf and uncaring. A sudden exhaustion overtook me, and I slept fitfully once again.
When I awoke, yet another It had taken the place of the first. My eyes had naturally gone to the spot where the revolver had come to rest, but instead of a revolver I beheld a knife, a dagger rather. Ornately and intricately fashioned, it caught the light from overhead and sent it back with a polished brilliance which enchanted the eye. I was taken aback at the sight. What was this new device, no doubt meant to increase my suffering all the more?

Once again, more strongly this time, my very soul rebelled against the thought of taking my own life, especially in such a grisly fashion! The slitting of the wrists was not as clean and neat and quick as a simple pistol shot to the head. I circled the dagger slowly, unwilling, even afraid, to touch it. It shone all the more dazzlingly as its sleek surface reflected the light from all different angles. I finally bent slowly to retrieve the dreaded instrument of my demise, recoiling suddenly in horror at the thought of what I must do. This blatant show of cowardice on my part served to strengthen my resolve and I grasped the hilt firmly. It fit the contours of my fingers as if it had been made to be held by such a person as I. I weighed it carefully in my hand, tossing it up a few times to get the feel, but I soon grew tired of wasting time. Whereas I had spent many hours meditating upon my doom the day before, the appeal of using such a blade on my person did not grow with superfluous contemplation.

Without hesitating further I pressed the knife to my flesh and drew it sharply across the wrist with a swift, efficient jerk. Nothing came of it, not the slightest droplet of scarlet blood nor even the merest twinge of pain. Nothing. The knife was dull, too dull to cut melted butter, let alone my calloused flesh. The fury of a beast came upon me and I sawed and hacked at the wrist in a kind of desperate insanity. I believe it might have raised a welt, but nothing more came of that exercise in futility. At last, worn out from the exertion, I collapsed on my bed, breathing heavily until my struggles overwhelmed me and I slipped once again into a form of rest akin to sleep, but not nearly so refreshing.

I knew not what to expect when I left my repose this time, but I did not have long to wonder. The lights in the cell had gone out, for the first time that I could ever remember. They had always been on before, whether I was waking or sleeping the light overhead had kept up a silent vigil on my wretched form. And now it was gone. The room was lit by a soft, orange glow. A dim flickering that cast grotesque shadows on the walls. I stood carefully in the faint light, which came now from the floor, and shuffled forward to get a closer look. In the middle of my microscopic prison some unknown tormentor had created yet another escape for me. This one would require me to leave my cell, although I would not stray far from it.

A well had opened up in the ground, perhaps twice the height of a man in width and the same in length. It was perhaps some twenty feet deep, perhaps even more, and waiting on the bottom to receive me I saw Them. Long, sharp bayonets with razor tips pointed directly at me. And around Them, the source of the flickering illumination: number of bales of straw in the process of being hungrily consumed by a starving flame. Even as I stood over that ravenous red flower I could almost feel the heat of the open fire bringing thick beads of sweat to my forehead. The intent of this little device was even more revoltingly plain than that of the two which preceded it. Even had the events of the previous two days not transpired I would have been certain of my keepers’ intent. Their wish was that I throw myself into that all-devouring blaze. Although this fate appealed to me as would a descent into Hades itself, I was not inclined to contest with my spirit yet again. This time there would be no internal struggle. I was determined to unfetter my tightly bound soul so that it might at last fly to its eternal repose. The thought of any sort of relief was so sweet that without further thought I threw myself eagerly forward into the open arms of the inferno.

Again my hearts desire was maddeningly held before me, just out of my reach, and this time worse than before. My body hit a solid barrier with a bone-crunching finality that told me I would continue no farther down the road of Death. I had yet to even descend beyond the level of the cell floor before encountering a smooth, non-reflective, totally undetectable glass wall barring the way. Oh cursed, tortuous monsters who devised that hellish illusion! Why did they insist upon torturing me thus? What had I done? Was I in fact the perpetrator of some hideous crime so unspeakable that the rest of my days must be spent in pursuit of something I didn’t want, but must have? Was this the sight of a fiendish experiment in the nature of human suffering? Why had I been chosen for this fate and who or what had brought me to this place?

For a time which I had no desire to monitor I lay there on that crystal clear window, my body racked with sobs and the intense desire for relief from the troubles I had fallen upon. At long last I dragged myself over to the bed once again and faded back into restless sleep, not daring to think of what I might find when I woke again, wishing that I might never again wake. But wake I did, and to a welcome sight. That other eye, the noose, staring at me, contemplating me in the same somber attitude that I am contemplating it. Here at last is an end of which I will not be robbed. Here at last will my trials reach their final end. Here at last will I find peace . . .

“How is he?” the speaker was a quiet, serious-looking man in a white lab coat.
“The same,” his younger colleague replied, peering through the small window in the door of the padded cell. Both of their tags had “Psychiatric Ward” printed under the names and MDs and PhDs.

Inside the cell a forlorn figure of a man was moving about very carefully and deliberately. The cubicle was totally empty except for him, but he held his arms in a peculiar manner as if he was dragging something towards the center of the tiny room. He stopped in the middle and stepped up onto . . . nothingness. His feet were still on the floor but he ducked his head slightly as if to avoid brushing the ceiling. His hands took hold of something in front of him which only he could see and pulled it towards his head, over his head to his neck. He stared blankly forward, drawing a deep breath, and suddenly kicked outwards with his feet. For the barest of milliseconds he appeared to be suspended there in midair, but the illusion disappeared as he came crashing face first to the floor. He lay there, stunned, for a moment and turned onto his back. A single tear rolled down his cheek, followed by a veritable flood of them as he cried like a little child.

“Poor devil,” said the younger man and sighed sympathetically.

“I’m afraid he’s incurable,” said the older man, shaking his head.

“What’s his trouble?”

“I’m not sure. Some sort of massive guilt complex, but more severe than anything I’ve ever seen before. He’s obviously suffering from extreme delusions of some kind.”

“Poor devil,” the young man sighed again and shook his head slowly. Inside the cell the man was still sobbing disconsolately.

The rope broke! It broke! Oh that I could see the face of the demon spawn who torture me so! Men they cannot be! No man could treat his fellow thus! Oh, God! Take me! Take me where you will, so long as I may leave this place! Hell holds no fear for me anymore! Perhaps I am there already. Could that be where I am? That place of eternal suffering? It could be, for eternal suffering is what I experience even now! Take me! Take me from this hellish place before my sanity departs and leaves me with nothing! Oh this place of horror and of sorrow and of despair and agony and torment and of a DEATH which will never, never be mine!

Posted by Jared at 01:10 PM | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Putting Myself in a Box

Well, a few quizzes caught my eye here and there, and I realized it's been quite some time since I took any. So I figured, Why not? They're all close enough to accuracy for government work, I think. I like the last one best, but if you try to take it you may need to try and refresh 2 or 3 times, depending on Quizilla traffic.

You Are A Romantic Realist

You are more romantic than 50% of the population.

You tend to be grounded when it comes to romance.
Sure, you can fall hard... but only for someone you've gotten to know.
And once you're in love, you can be a total romantic goofball...
But you'd never admit it to your friends!

Are You Romantic or Realistic?
You Have A Type B+ Personality

You're a pro at going with the flow
You love to kick back and take in everything life has to offer
A total joy to be around, people crave your stability.

While you're totally laid back, you can have bouts of hyperactivity.
Get into a project you love, and you won't stop until it's done
You're passionate - just selective about your passions

Do You Have a Type A Personality?

You are a Mod. Yeah baby.

What kind of Sixties Person are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

You're a Slytherclaw!: By nature you are rational
and a realist. Some people may call you cynical
and elitist but this doesn't matter to you. You
don't depend on other people's opinions to
determine how you live your life. You are
generally cautious and prefer to weigh the
consequences before you act. In conflicts you
prefer to remain neutral and aloof. You value
intelligence and you are a natural diplomat,
you can convince people to do what you want
them to do. Your weakness is that you sometimes
think more with your head than with your heart
and it leads to isolation. With the
intelligence of a Ravenclaw and the subtlety of
a Slytherin you will be sure to achieve all
your goals!

Which Mix of the Hogwarts Houses are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by Jared at 01:11 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

August 24, 1983 - February 22, 2005

I really hope that the above dates do not appear on my tombstone. Well, the first one can, I suppose, and the second might . . . but I really hope not. Now, as to why that second date could potentially be carved into my own personalized hunk of granite . . .

After a day spent frantically completing an assignment for Historiography, wondering how I could possibly hope to finish my two book reports by Thursday, and examining various syllabi so that no other enormous assignments would be able to sneak up and catch me unaware, I discovered the following about next Tuesday:

--American Lit II: My first five journals fall due, all of which will require at least two pages of writing for me (though that is well above the minimum limit) plus a review of the lit that I'm writing about which could prove to involve a good bit of reading (but not too very much).

--Twentieth Century Russia: Dr. K decided he'd roll my book report back to next Tuesday. This is a good thing. After all, I still have 200 pages to go in the book, and it involves a 3-5 page paper. So, as I say, good . . . Right?

--Texas & the American West: Dr. J decided he'd roll my book report back to next Tuesday. This is a good thing. After all, I still have 250 pages to go in the book, and it involves a 3-5 page paper. So, as I say, good . . . Right? Wait, that paragraph looks really familiar . . .

--Historiography: I must read Maccabees . . . both of them. And write a 2-3 page analysis of them.

So, what I'm basically looking at is something like 18-25 pages of writing and . . . a lot of reading, all for next Tuesday.

Why, God? Why?

Posted by Jared at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

Wait, America has, like, a history?!

We have been studying memory in my Intro to Psych class all week, and today we had an interesting exercise which was a lot of fun. I'm kinda upset that I was a bit frazzled, rushed, and half-awake for it, but it was fun nonetheless.

Dr. Sheafer had slid into reciting the chapter . . . excuse me, "module" . . . back at us from the textbook and I in turn was sliding into a light doze when Scott (to my right) gave me a poke and informed me that we had a handout coming around. Ashley, also in the class, usually sits directly to my left but a previewer had usurped her spot and she was sitting to the right of Scott.

Anyway, the handout which appeared in front of me contained 43 numbered blanks, and after everyone had one Dr. Sheafer asked us to write the names of all the US presidents, in chronological order. Scott, Ashley, and I immediately started writing, but I heard gasps and snickering from around the classroom as Dr. Sheafer asked, "Why are you all looking at me like that? Just start writing!"

After a few minutes she asked if anyone was still writing . . . Ashley and I (didn't see any other hands go up) held up the class for an extra minute or two. I had failed to identify 10 of the presidents (grrr . . . more on that in a moment), but knew enough numbers that the ones I did have were mostly in the correct blanks. I heard the loud-mouth "history major" across the aisle proclaiming loudly that he "knew Lincoln! Lincoln freed the slaves! Lincoln is the most important! Lincoln is the 18th! I know Lincoln!" The sad thing is, he seemed to have over half the class convinced as to the correctness of his number.

Finally we were all done and Sheafer read us the correct answers so we could check ourselves. I had failed to get 4 which I actually knew (disappointing): Van Buren (#8), Arthur (#21), McKinley (#25), and Harding (#29). If I'd had more time to think . . . but that's neither here nor there. I also didn't even try to take a stab at the "period of death" during the 1830s-1850s which I haven't had straight in years. I could easily recall 4 of the 6 names, but the order eluded me completely (they are Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, #s 10-15 . . . in case you're curious . . . won't be forgetting them again any time soon).

My fellow "history major" across the way chimed in with a loud "Dubya!" at the names of Bush Jr. AND Sr., and let us all know that, he "is a history major, and I didn't know hardly any of those!" He seemed proud of the fact. He's done this before, as when stating that he had no idea of the significance of most of these dates: 1776, 1812, 1861, 1914, 1941. I really wish he'd shut up. When did ignorance begin to be such a source of pride? Anyway, I digress.

Then she said she would read off the list again, and she wanted those who had the names she read written in their blanks to raise their hands as she read off those names, and for everyone to keep an eye on the rest of the class and watch where lots of hands went up and so forth . . .

I'm pretty sure everyone got Washington, but immediately after that half of the hands went down and by the time we got to Jackson (#7), Ashley and I were the only ones left. Except for #9 (William Henry Harrison), I had to keep my hand down (leaving Ashley as the lone hand) until we got to Lincoln (#16). At this point, most people had their hands up again, but by the time we hit Hayes (#19) everyone except me and Ashley had dropped back out.

As Ashley's hand stayed steadily in the air throughout, you could hear running commentary around the room. The jerk across the aisle loudly accused her of having studied beforehand. And I have no idea what I appeared to be doing . . . especially during the period when I didn't have 21, 25, or 29. My hand must have looked like a frigging prarie dog. However, once we passed Harding, I was able to keep my arm raised.

When FDR (#32) came along, a few hands began to come hesitantly back up, and by the time we got to Reagan (#40) almost everyone knew what was coming. After another double-echo of "Dubya," the exercise was over. As per the predictions in our book regarding memory, a graph of class knowledge would have been largely U-shaped . . . save, of course, for the predictable rise around Lincoln. The exercise was meant to show that, when recalling lists, people tend to remember the items that come first and last, and very little out of the middle.

I thought we could have chosen a better illustration. To my mind the experiment was a surer indication of the fact that even "history majors" don't seem to know much of anything about anything anymore, and that that's just fine. I'm not really a nationalist or a patriot in any sense of the word. I can't bring myself to care more about one particular country and its people than I do about all the rest of the world combined . . . certainly not to the point of supporting infamy or idiocy for the sake of "sacred American ideals." I just happen to have learned something about the history of the country of my birth (and picked up a great deal about lots of countries I've never even visited, as well). I wonder how many rabidly and obnoxiously American LeTourneau students could say the same. Can valid, wholesome national pride truly exist in conjunction with historical ignorance? Or is it doomed to be as shallow, obnoxious, and bigoted as I believe to be?

I thought, as I wrote that last paragraph, that I was getting slightly off-track of the original purpose of this post, and I suppose that's true. But it occurs to me to say that I should dearly like to impose restrictions on ignorant patriots . . . among others. What percentage of American college students could pass the standard naturalization test? I have no idea what's on it (hmmm . . . must research), but when I see people in my Psych class who can apparently name about 4 or 5 of our presidents, at most, I begin to really wonder.

Anyway, back to the point:

*sniggers* My cousin busted up the textbook curve . . . big time. I was just surprised at how many of the presidents I remembered myself at a moment's notice after all these years (I memorized them in 4th grade). After this refresher I have them back again, and that makes me happy. And I couldn't help but think that I'd love to see the results (and teacher reaction) if I could select my own small group to test on the presidents in this manner.

Posted by Jared at 03:32 PM | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

Everyone Is Entitled to One Fatal Mistake

For quite some time I have toyed idly with the idea of posting some of my dabblings in the realm of fiction, and I always talked myself out of it. I both love and despise my own work at the same time, and I never read it without fixing something. I just couldn't bring myself to subjecting something I like, but that I think is horrible, to the criticism and commentary of others. But I love to hear what people think, good or bad.

Anyway, due to my general slowing down of posting content, and the desire to improve on my work and perhaps write something new (I haven't written any new stories in at least two years) I think I'll post some of these. I don't have many that are both short and complete . . . four or five at most, I think. And I'm going to force myself not to include any apologetic or over-explanatory commentary about the stories themselves, as difficult as that is.

They are what they are. Most of them were written about three or four years ago and have had limited editing since. If you care to sit still long enough to finish them and then offer criticisms/compliments/suggestions . . . whatever, then I will be thrilled. If not, this is still just me posting random things I've written. The only difference is that this stuff was composed years before I had a blog instead of on the spot. I don't think any of my short stories are longer than ten pages in MS Word (double-spaced).

This particular story was written during the first semester of my senior year, for English class . . . I am painfully aware of certain flaws in it, but I don't dare read over it thoroughly right now. I'll never get to bed.

The assignment, if I remember correctly, was to write a story that included irony, but it's possible that I just wanted to be ironic and end a story with . . . Well, you'll see. Read on. If you dare.

Everyone Is Entitled to One Fatal Mistake

With a loud snap the time clock punched Hector Bingley’s time card on the “Out” blank. He pulled it out listlessly and slid it back into its slot before trudging out the door and making his way through the factory gates. A sharp, shooting pain in the sole of his foot reminded him once again that he wasn’t getting any younger. Far too many things were reminding him of that these days . . . far too many. The years of long, boring hours on the assembly line were taking their toll on his body, and at age forty-seven he felt sixty years old. And living where he did, that was entirely inappropriate. Florida was a place to go after you aged, not a place to live while you were aging!

Without warning he slipped into his favorite daydream, his only daydream if the truth were known. He imagined himself as a great explorer and treasure hunter, just like his hero, Juan Ponce de Leon of Spain. He had been combing Florida for months, seeking the ultimate prize: The Fountain of Youth, and he had just found it. Laughing and yelling he dove into it, splashing and swimming through the healing waters. Decades of life slipped from his shoulders like so much dead weight, and he could feel the wrinkles of his face smooth. His shiny, balding head sprouted thick crops of hair once again and his false teeth hit the ground with a satisfying crack beside his now useless bifocals, he wouldn’t be needing those anymore. Finally he stepped out of the fountain. He was young again, and he always would be.

A blaring horn brought him back to reality with a jolt as a teenager in a hot rod swerved to miss him. He was standing in the middle of the street several blocks away from the factory, a goofy smile plastered on his face. He sighed, a deep, heavy, hopeless sigh, and made his way back to the sidewalk. If only . . .

He knew the Fountain of Youth existed . . . somewhere. It had to! And Ponce de Leon had found it, right here in Florida. The history books claimed that he had died, but Hector didn’t believe it for a second. Juan had just been keeping his discovery quiet to exploit it for himself. Who knew? The man might still exist somewhere in his eternally youthful state. After Ponce de Leon had faked his own death he could have gone anywhere to live forever. Hector had a theory that if he was still around, he’d be in Florida, guarding his prize. That might explain a few things, such as the number of old people who retired there, for example. Maybe Ponce had ways of quietly advertising to certain aging people, and his income came from their retirement funds. Hector would never tell anyone his theory, of course. They’d have him committed, but you never knew . . .

He walked by a five-story apartment building on the opposite side of the street and paused to listen to a beautiful melody that was wafting down from above. The building looked like an old, converted villa from Florida’s colonial days. A magnificent balcony crowned the top floor. It was square, which was odd for a balcony, and each of the four points held a statue of a wizened human being, bent double from rheumatism or some such thing. There was no railing, another strange feature, and slightly off the balcony’s center there sat a huge black grand piano. An elderly man was playing it, the wild shock of white hair on his head flying crazily in every direction as he threw himself into his music. It was a very good piece. Hector had never heard it before. Suddenly, in the middle of a rising crescendo, the music stopped. The pianist’s hands crashed down on the keys in frustration, producing a sickening cacophony. It didn’t look like he would be playing more anytime soon, so Hector, with another of his famous sighs, continued his painful shuffle down the street. He didn’t even notice the peculiar face peering at him from behind a white lace curtain on the ground floor of the same building. As he rounded the corner the curtain fell back into place again.


Maestro Dietrich Stradivarius was upset, angry, frustrated . . . the works. His opus, the finest composition of his life, was lying uncompleted on his piano on the balcony. He could feel the music, beautiful music, marvelous music, floating maddeningly about his head, just out of reach. Now matter how he grasped at it, it wouldn’t come to him. It always stayed in the same place; close enough to make its presence known to him, but too far to be taken hold of. He had spent the last several months hard at work on the first pages of the Concerto. The notes had come slowly, but they had come, feeding themselves from his brain to his fingers as one feeds string to a kite, but he now he was out of string. The rest of the Concerto was trapped up there in his head, buried deep in a corner beyond his reach, and he couldn’t remember ever feeling so maddeningly helpless as he did just then. Perhaps the remainder of the great work was doomed to stay there, stuck up in his head until his dying day and beyond.

With a groan of despair he wheeled the piano through the open French doors and back into his apartment. He told himself once again that he could still hope. The rest of the music would come to him, probably when he least expected, as it had in the past. Granted he had never experienced Writer’s Block before, at least not like this, but he was confident that the music would come. He closed the French doors and bolted them, leaving the room to get himself something to eat.

He tripped lightly down the stairs in an effort to be cheery, and as a pleasant reminder to himself that he could still do that. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but the years had been kind to him, and he didn’t suffer from most of the ailments that afflicted the ancient.

A voice from behind stopped him as he trod out the door. His landlord’s door was open a crack and his hand poked out holding a letter. The landlord was a quiet sort and kept to himself mostly. In fact, the Maestro couldn’t ever remember actually having seen his face. He probably had . . . surely he had, but his memory was one thing that certainly wasn’t what it used to be. The landlord’s hand was smooth and pale, the hand of a younger man who didn’t get much sun and didn’t work, or need to.

“Mr. Stradivarius? Could you do me the service of mailing this letter. I would be very much obliged if you would.” His voice was high-pitched and thin.

Dietrich plucked the letter from the man’s fingers and mumbled something about “my pleasure.” The landlord didn’t respond, he just shut the door. Dietrich shrugged and walked out. Without any conscious thought his eye fell on the envelope he was carrying. It was addressed to a “Hector Bingley.” The name meant nothing to him, but he noticed from the address that the apartment building where Mr. Bingley lived was only a few blocks away, on the way to his usual dining place. He passed a mailbox, but didn’t insert the letter. He could drop it off on his way by the building, maybe save someone else some time. The day’s mail had already been picked up anyway.


Hector walked out of the supermarket with a small bag of groceries, turned the corner and finally arrived at his building. The street was deserted except for a single old man walking ahead of him. The man looked vaguely familiar but Hector wasn’t sure where he’d seen him. He stepped inside his building and popped the mailbox open with his free hand. A pile of bills greeted him, as usual, and he scooped them up and somehow made his way slowly up the stairs.

Going through the mail once he was inside his apartment, he noticed a single envelope which stood out from the rest. The name and address were hand-written, unlike the printed bills and junk mail, and there was no visible return address. Hector tore it open and let the empty envelope drop to the floor. In his hand he held a single page, almost blank. Two words graced the top in a flowing script. “A Gift,” they said. At the bottom, in the same flowing script, there was an address, and in the center there was a small, clear crystal container with a minute amount of water. It was plugged with an equally small crystal stopper. He lifted it up carefully, almost reverently and examined it. The crystal was thick and not easy to break. It, or maybe the water inside it, acted as a prism, catching the white light from the setting sun as it passed through the window and splitting it into every color of the rainbow. The water sparkled alluringly and he unplugged the stopper and took a closer look. The glistening liquid inside begged him to drink the few drops the vial contained. Hector shrugged and guzzled it down in a single sip.

Jolts of electricity shot through his body, tingling in every nerve and pore. He went rigid as the water burned all the way down, finally stopping in the pit of his stomach were he could feel it boiling away. Seconds later the warm glow faded, taking with it every single ache he had. Hector’s eyes went wide with surprise and he rushed over to the mirror. He had to whip off his glasses to see himself, they distorted his now perfect vision. The heavy lines on his face, even though they had felt inches deep a few moments before, were now almost invisible. The silver flecks that had begun to mar his once jet-black hair were gone, fading back into their original color. A sizable chunk of bald spot was now covered too. He looked and felt ten years younger . . . for a few minutes. He was still admiring his young self in the mirror when the first pains returned. A hand went to his back as the familiar ache reappeared unceremoniously. He looked back in the mirror, but his vision was blurred. He put his glasses back on, and immediately noticed his lines fading back into wrinkles and creases. Within a few seconds he felt no different than he had before drinking the water. Somehow, though, he didn’t much care.

Hector had finally found what he wanted: The Water of Life. In fact, it had found him. And he knew where he could get more. He went for his coat. He wouldn’t waste one more second.


After supper Dietrich felt different, better even. As he had walked back to his apartment he kept thinking about the Concerto, and he finally decided that the best course of action would be to not think about it at all. When he got back home he wheeled the piano back out onto the balcony, shoved the unfinished Concerto under the bench, and started to play. He played the first thing that came to his head . . . Chopsticks.


A familiar song was being played on the balcony when Hector arrived at the villa he had admired a few hours before. He double-checked the address. This was place. He hurried inside quickly as the sharp, lively rhythm of Chopsticks continued above.

A few minutes later he found himself inside a room unlike any he had ever seen before. Wall-to-wall antique art of all kinds was stacked to the ceiling. An old, high-backed chair sat in the middle of the room, turned away from him. A smooth, pale hand appeared from behind it and beckoned. Hector stepped forward, walking around the side of the chair. A young Hispanic man was sitting in it, dressed in a style that was older than most of the art in the room. He had long black hair and a thin dainty mustache which he was stroking lightly with his finger. He gestured to another chair in front of him and Hector sat.

“Greetings, Señor Bingley. I am Jose Ponce de Leon, only son of Juan Ponce de Leon. Do you know who that is?”

“Yes!” Hector gasped breathlessly. “He’s my hero! I have volumes and volumes of books about his exploits!”

“I see. In that case, you understand a great many things already. That is good. I will not have to explain much.” He paused. “I suppose you know all about the Fountain of Youth, then.”

It was not a question, but Hector answered anyway. “Naturally. It is the reason your father is my hero.”

“Hmmm . . .” Jose murmured thoughtfully. “Do you see that door?” He pointed to the right. “Open it and look inside.”

Hector rose unsteadily and ambled up to the door. His shaking fingers found the knob, turned it, and pulled the door open. He stuck his head through the doorway and an involuntary cry of shock escaped him.


Five flights up, Dietrich uttered the exact same sound as the rest of his long-awaited Concerto flowed through him and sprouted into his fingers. The music poured from the piano like a waterfall in a rushing stream. He closed his eyes in heavenly bliss and let the music carry him away.


“You have the Fountain of Youth in your bathtub?” Hector shrieked in disbelief.

“Nice camouflage, isn’t it?”

“But . . . but it’s a bathtub.”

“I’m aware of that. Take the glass by the sink, fill it full of the water and come sit down.”

Hector did what he said quickly and impatiently.

“I know you’ll want to be on your way to enjoy what I’m giving you here, but first, a warning. My father and I learned the hard way that the Fountain of Youth does not provide eternal life, merely eternal youth.” Jose’s voice was strained and sad.

“What’s the difference?”

“My father, even though he looked like he was twenty-five, was killed by an arrow in a fight with Indians in 1521.”

“Oh . . . I’m sorry.” Hector tried to sound sincere, but after all the guy had been dead for 400 years.

“From this I learned that the gift of life that this water gives is not a gift of invulnerability. You can still die, but you’ll never die of old age.”

“I see.” Hector’s face fell.

“Don’t look so down. You’ll still be young again. Besides, if you take care of yourself you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I’m still here, aren’t I? Now drink up!”

Hector grinned and tossed off the whole glass in a single massive gulp. The change was evident immediately as the same transformation as before took place again, and then kept going. First ten years dropped off, then twenty. His body melted into the man he had been some twenty-five years before, and he felt even younger. He felt invigorated like he hadn’t felt since . . . well, since he couldn’t remember when. He didn’t remember ever feeling better. An overwhelming joy overtook him as he shot to his feet and pumped Jose’s hand gleefully. With barely a word of thanks or a farewell he was out the door.


Dietrich drew out the final chord of his masterwork and drew in a deep breath of contentment. It was perfect, utterly and totally perfect. He reached under the bench and slowly and deliberately drew out his music sheets. He arranged them carefully on the stand in front of him and drew out his pencil, ready to transcribe the fantastic music onto the paper. He placed the pencil on the paper . . . and nothing happened. His finger couldn’t find the note to draw. He stared at it wonderingly. Why wouldn’t it obey? And then his thoughts caught up to him. He couldn’t remember . . . anything. Everything he had just played was utterly gone and there was nothing he could do about it.


Hector bounded out onto the street and paused beside the curve, drawing in a deep breath of fresh air. He felt alive again, at long last. Nothing would stop him now. Life’s troubles would never disturb him again.


With an animal cry of utterly helpless fury Dietrich lashed out at the mute piano. His hands struck it full force with the strength of months of frustration and anger. The piano took off across the balcony, propelled swiftly along over the slick marble floor. Dietrich gasped in realization and made a lunge for the escaped instrument. He missed.


Hector’s head came up at the sound of an anguished scream overhead. He peered upward questioningly. A large dark shape popped over the side of the balcony above him and plummeted straight down. There was a sickening crunch mingled with the discordant din of a smashing piano and Hector crumpled unceremoniously under the weight of the 400 pound music maker.


A crowd gathered quickly. It was not a pretty sight. Two legs stuck out from under the shattered piano, which had its own legs splayed outward. One of the onlookers felt a drop of rain and looked up, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Only an old man peering disconsolately over the edge of a balcony high above, one of his hands stretched pleadingly in the general direction of the piano. The spectator moved out from under him and returned his attention to the scene of the accident. No one in the small crowd noticed a pair of white lace curtains drop back into place over a window just a few yards away.

Posted by Jared at 02:18 AM | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

The LeTourneau Amateur Yankee Historian Society

If you don't like rants or the venting of steam, keep on scrolling. I'm just talkin', don't nobody have to listen.

If you live in any one of the 37 continental states that is not in the south, I just might have a bone to pick with you. I have decided to declare today, February 8th, to be my own personal "I Hate Arrogant Damnyankees" Day.

I have taken this step because it has come to my attention that I truly despise non-Southern Americans who wander about complacently with their noses in the air and speak in shocked, superior tones about how scandalizing and difficult to comprehend they find the historical treatment of the African American race in our region of the country. They speak as though their lily-white ancestors, those indian-slaughtering, slavery-tolerating, immigrant-exploiting men of young America, didn't accrue a single ugly skeleton in their pristine historical closets from the moment they set foot on this continent . . . to say nothing of exploits in Europe, Asia, Africa . . .

Now I should probably clarify a few things. To begin with, yes, slavery and racism are really really really bad. I am painfully aware that we are smack in the middle of Black History Month (don't get me started) and even if we were in some distant portion of what is apparently "White History Rest-of-the-Year" I wouldn't think of making light of the plight of minorities in American history. There is almost nothing I hate worse than mindless prejudice. Which is probably why I'm so irritated at the stupidity of a certain two people in my lit class this morning.

We're studying Huck Finn right now, so of course the topic of racism reared its ugly head. And a certain non-southern type announced that he had been driving by a local high school with his Texan girlfriend, and she had pointed it out as a school that had been segregated. And he saw fit to inform us that he was stunned, not only that such a thing had taken place, but that anyone would actually admit to it.

Ummm . . .? Yes. And I'll also be pleading the fifth on the subjects of Auschwitz, the Inquisition, and the Trail of Tears. What's that look for? No one in history has ever done anything evil or wrong!

Then the guy who thinks everything literary is either allegorical or satirical spoke up, speculating that Twain was indulging in a little satire on slaves. "I mean, things weren't really this bad were they? And those people weren't really that superstitious, right?"

Seriously, this guy once asked (during a discussion of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat") whether it was allegorical since the name of the town is Poker Flat and the main character of the story is a professional gambler.

And don't even get me started on the religion of "don't steal massuh's chickens." I can't handle it right now.

Posted by Jared at 11:21 AM | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

Let Me Know If You Win

I know I've mentioned this before, but . . . You take 15 hours of classes, work 14 hours, and find a very special girl, then try to keep up a blog with anything resembling regularity. Or just sit there and watch me do it. Anyway . . .

Wilson found me the link to this great article from the Journal of Religion and Society, which I found very enjoyable: Christian Theology as Depicted in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter Books. Go check it out.

And speaking of Wilson . . . The characters in this comic are fictional and do not intentionally resemble any persons living or dead that I know of. Neither Wilson nor I know Bill Watterson personally, to the best of my knowledge . . .

I'm the one taking a nap.


Posted by Jared at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

"I know that if I were in his place and you were in hers, we wouldn't sleep either."


Mandragola by Niccolo Machiavelli

Wilson- Callimaco
Scholl- Siro
Myself- Ligurio
Randy- Messer Nicia
Michaela- Lucrezia
Gallagher- Sostrata, Young Widow
Andrew- Fra Timoteo

So, Machiavelli was a filthy old man and a playwright. Who knew? Well, just about everyone, as it turns out. So, here's the basic plot:

Callimaco, an Italian who has spent most of his life in France, returns to Italy to investigate the rumors of a shockingly beautiful (and, unfortunately, virtuous) married woman named Lucrezia. And he can't just stop with looking. So he hires Ligurio, a professional in such matters, to help him wheedle his way into Lucrezia's bed. The enterprise is aided by the fact that Messer Nicia, her husband, is apparently impotent (in addition to being an idiot) and . . . bawdy hilarity ensues.

Ligurio and Callimaco convince Nicia (who refuses to acknowledge his role in the couple's childless plight) that a potion made of mandragola, when once drunk by his wife, can't fail to make her fertile. There's just one catch . . . the first person to have relations with her after she drinks it will die in eight days. You can figure out the rest.

The quote in my title is spoken to the audience by Lucrezia's mercenary confessor, who is all too willing to justify the scheme to her biblically (using the example of Lot's daughters, no less) for the right number of ducats.

It was funny and a pretty good time . . . especially after a two-week drop-off in play readings . . . but I'm afraid we might have scandalized a few Longview Hall pedestrians.

Oh, well.

Posted by Jared at 11:59 PM | TrackBack