So I Graduated, What Now?

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I look to my future with hope. With my degree in hand and skipping out the door, I have several plans in motion towards creating a solid foundation for the rest of my life. First off, I am bailing out of Michigan. I have lived my entire life in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti and am aching to go experience a new life in different surroundings. 

Despite growing up in Michigan, I have travelled to forty-two of the fifty states in the country as well as taken many trips to Canada, been to Mexico and Italy once as well. I want to explore the world and I have a few ideas on how to do that while furthering my career and supporting myself.  One way to do that is by teaching overseas. There are many programs that will pay a salary, living expenses, relocation expenses, plus house and board on top of it all. And if that does not suit me, there is also Teach for America through Americorps-who a friend of mine worked for in the environmental partion of the program-which would keep me in the U.S. and has opportunities for loan forgiveness. But these are the plans I have been muddling around for awhile in my mind and have decided that are not yet feasible. I have bills to pay and running off to do those things are just going to have to wait. 

So what then? Last year I was hired as a personal assistant for a realtor. This gave me the learning experience and opportunity to see what working in the business sector was like. I found I enjoyed it and the pay was acceptable, especially considering I do not have my degree quite yet in hand. I plan to work to get a master’s then a doctoral degree. But first I need to have money to pay for it and to live on. So, with all that in mind, I have decided to take two years off school and pay off some of my loans and establish myself a career in business. I have experience in accounting, clerical work, data entry, and more, so I have some other skills to compliment my degree. After graduation, I plan to work a few more months in Michigan, then pack my bags and head to Atlanta to join my family. I play to work for a few years, build back up my savings and get my bills paid to an balance I can live with, then apply to grad school at GSU. 

I still want to fit going overseas to teach into my life plans, but only if it is a feasible option. Until then, I plan on enjoying some time off school, working to rebuild my finances to a stable base, and spend some much needed time with family. 

Onwards to the next grand adventure of life! 

Past, Present, Future

The world is changing. Americans are changing. The nature of human existence is to be in a constant state of flux. Tastes change, ideologies come and go, and life goes on. While reading Persepolis , I thought about how strict religious beliefs being forced on people was so wrong. I have talked before about how I believe that all men and women should be free (within reason of course, so don’t go stealing/murdering/whatnot or anything). When thinking about religion as a force shaping politics, I thought about some of the debates going on in our country. There is plenty going on regarding that which makes me wonder if people remember how to think logically.

In our country, we have an ongoing debate on gay marriage. To me, it is a simple matter. Remove government from marriage, then it no longer is an issue, just kick the whole thing out the door. Then leave it to the churches to decide whether they want to allow a gay marriage or not. Why is government involved in a spiritual matter, anyways? After/during this process, introduce a new title with the same benefits that apply to current married couples, domestic partnership. Fairly innocuous title, lets people get the benefits they want without the whole mucking around we are doing these days.

But seriously, why is this even an issue? I understand the protest that Christians, especially Catholics, have against homosexuality. They are going off the bible and theological opinions as the base for their disagreeing that gay marriage should be allowed. So, they disagree based on their faith. Funny, plenty of people disagree on faith, too. Yet, despite a lot of people wandering around believing those not of their faith/belief system are going to hell. And still we have religious freedom. Why can we not just apply that logic of freedom to marriage as well? Sure, many of those religious people truly believe that being homosexual is a moral crime and severely damaging to not just society, but to the “sinner” him/herself. But if you consider that many people think that others are going to hell with the same logic applied to other “sins” or disagreements on tenements of faith…it just seems so illogical.

I cannot imagine living in a theocracy the way Marjane did. With some political movements in our country, I feel like they want to bring a heavy religious presence into our governmental system, adding to what already exists. If it is all you know, that is one thing. To conform to expectations and rules based on what you are born into is a lot easier than having freedoms taken away from you. To be a young girl and knowing what life used to be before the heavy hand of oppression comes and clenches down, followed by war, death of friends, injured family members…Marji had a lot to face and to see her sink into trouble in Austria is not a surprising development. Transitioning to adulthood is hard enough without facing all the terrors and horrors she did from war, a revolution, and oppression. Her free spirit was being crushed at home, then she wanted to fit in and was overwhelmed. A type of story we hear all the time. It has elements that remind me of the Cambodian students in the movie Freedom Writers who also struggled with living in a new environment much different from home, also a survivor of a war. It is easy to fall without support, without hope, without knowledge of how to fight against temptations that drag you down. How to get back up? But the silver lining is, if you manage to rise back up, you will be a strong survivor and a better person.

Revolution

Revolution! A word of many connotations to be sure. It dredges up perhaps thoughts of our own American revolution, or maybe the French revolution, maybe even the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. ¡Viva la Revolución! It is an energizing word, inspiring action. And yet, revolutions by nature are messy and can cause great harm to a wide spread of people. In the French revolution, heads went rolling when Robespierre and his fellow revolutionaries decided to enact a reign of terror in which many people were killed mercilessly. And that is a mark of many a revolution, lots of blood, death, and destruction. And who suffers?

Iran’s revolution claimed lives and drastically altered others. In Iran, women are very oppressed, even though their situation has gradually improved from the time of the revolution that deposed the Shah. Marji experienced the new law that required the hijab and the sex-segregation in school. Before that, the veil was not required, but with the new law all women would have to have nothing show but their face and hands or face severe penalties. The Iranian revolution turned government into a theocracy, the likes of which I believe most Americans would have a very difficult time understanding. In America, we have few moral codes regarding sexuality left, provided it involves consenting adults. In Iran, pre-maritial sex carries the death penalty for women.

In terms of woman’s rights, the Iranian revolution shoved their progress all the way back to the Medieval Ages. Why should we care? I care because to my mind, depriving people of basic rights and discriminating based on sex is a violation that should not be allowed. Generally speaking, I am not an anti-theist, pretty much have a live and let live attitude towards religion. But strict moral codes being enforced with such severe penalties are something I believe deserve aid to fight against. How? No idea, but I think it bears some thinking about. Oppression is nothing new, but I feel the urge to raise banners against it whenever I hear about it. I believe people should be free and you can be a moral person without a dogma forced upon you. Why would a god create you then limit you by a bunch of arbitrary strictures? Why would a god make rules different based on any differences? It implies that the god cannot create perfection, which is a paradox to my mind. Women and men should have equal rights, period.

What would you do to protect your child? Send her away? Marji was lucky to have parents that had the means to send her to Austria, away from the fate her family feared might befall her. If only others could be so lucky. Sometimes you cannot get away and then what? People should not have to live in that sort of fear. You should always be able to question authority. Humans are prone to error. You should be able to question everything, because what if those making decisions are wrong?

Childhood

Does anyone leave childhood gracefully? Does anyone get the chance to grow up without something devastating happening to jar him/her into the state of adulthood or that horrible place in between we sometimes call teenage-hood? If so, who are these people and how did they get to be so lucky? I have read Persepolis several times before. It is among the types of reading I enjoy and connect with pretty strongly, even if I did not have the most similar of experiences. I never went through such a radical change in my culture or society, nor experienced a war like this woman has, I still identify with having an abrupt transition from the haze of a happy childhood into a new version of being.

Some people do not get a chance to have a happy childhood at all. They may be born into a world of fear, war, oppression, privation, starvation, maybe even die before they have a chance to live at all. It makes me think sometimes I am selfish for wishing my childhood could of remained happy a bit longer. I do believe, however, that pain is relative. Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures, we can survive quite a lot of trauma, given the chance.

Marji lives in a world that changed very rapidly and that independent spirit of hers would of been crushed in such a strict world that Iran became, or as her family feared, get her raped and murdered. I had several friends die, even when I was her age, but unlike her, I never saw them dead the way she did her friend, Neda. Their bodies, yes, but only at a funeral when everything is covered up and artificial, unreal. It still hurts, but in a different kind of way, I think. Their lives were taken from them, not by war, but by accidents or by their own hand. The feeling of helplessness remains, the anger is there, but a different kind of helplessness, a different kind of anger. I felt helpless, because there is nothing to do but mourn, nothing will fix it. I felt anger, because their deaths were caused by circumstances outside their control or by a moment of despair in which a suicidal impulse managed to grab them. I did not lose my childhood by death, but I can understand how a young life can be indelibly shaped by it.

Reading Literature for Enjoyment and Analyzing

Reading for me has always been a sort of magical experience. It is the sort of thing that sinks into you, can transport you to a different world. From the first book I read to the one I am reading now, the majority of my chosen literature drops me into a new universe by the time I am on the third page at the latest. I dived into all types of literature, from worlds full of sword and sorcery to quiet, frustrating British Regency literature written by great authors such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and John Keats. These rich novels range from fantastical to realistic representations of the world. Each book lead to new worlds, some lost to the dust of history and others never existed but in the wilds of an author’s imagination.

The fantastic author, J. R. R. Tolkien, opened a world of fantasy for me that never closed. When I was very young, I learned to read by reading fairytales. But as I grew older, those sort of stories- wonderful as they were- began to lose their shine and luster for my growing mind. They still were enjoyable, but their familiarity and simplicity of the storyline was feeling stale and not as vibrant as they were when I was small. But with Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, the doors to an alternate universe with valiant warriors, mystical wizards, cunning hobbits, villainous villains, fiery dragons, and danger aplenty drew me in and held me with shimmering bonds of delight. Never will that delight fade, it just has grown to the point that my imagination builds the world the author describes and plays it in my head realistically.

Historical novels are another great love of mine, because they offer a glimpse into worlds long since turned to dust and ruins. Robert Harris is one author whose works I adore. He gives personable accounts through his characters, selecting the narrators to be not people of great stature, but those working close to or with grand schemes that held the world together at that point in time. His book about Cicero, the great orator of the Roman Republic, has his story told by his trusted slave and learned scribe, Tiro, in his two books, Imperium and Conspirata. It gives the reader an insight into the mind and workings of the great man, but not from his point of view. It both is intimate and distant at the same time. When I read those books, I feel transported to those days of pre-Imperial Rome, drawn into the machinations of the clever politicians and the raging thirst of ambition that Cicero, a man determined to rise to the power and status of consul. The writing is done is such a way to bring history alive. You might just feel like you are there, walking the crowded, hot streets of the ancient city, seeing it in its splendor before it turned to ruins and became a ghost, a shell, a tomb of relics.

Character development is a chief concern of mine when reading. If the characters feel flat or two-dimensional, I just cannot connect with the material, no matter how rich and intricate the descriptions of the world may be. Terry Goodkind is one popular fantasy author I have never been able to get interested. His plots are interesting, his world description is good, but his characters are too over-powered. They are the type that go through a hurricane of events without a hair out of place. That sort of god power in characters irritate me, because they lack realism. This also stands for those types of novels in which a main character is maimed and somehow either is unaffected by the physical handicap or, even worse, gets some magical replacement and they just continue on as if nothing happened. Having been gravely injured myself in an accident, I know for certain that you do not go through serious trauma without scars, mental at the very least, if not physical. I have few scars, some nerve damage, but what made the greatest impression was the memory of searing pain during the accident and the subsequent months, the combination boredom and pain at every movement, while being wheelchair or couch bound for months. I just cannot stomach or believe it when a character is gravely harmed and just recovers and moves on without some sort of change happen. Jim Butcher’s character, Harry, in the Dresden Files goes through an accident wherein his hand was badly burned, like my legs were, and his recovery period was realistic enough that I could believe it and still like the character for his preservation. There are scarred heroes that keep going, and it is those types of characters and even the ones that fall and do not get up that I connect to the most. Because life never leaves anyone unscathed, you never leave it without experience of some kind or another.

Learning to analyze and read books in a different life through the study of criticism and theory has definitely put a dent in my enthusiasm for reading. This is partially due to the type of person I am. Once I start getting into something, I cannot help but apply it to everything. It takes a while to either shut something I have learned off or push it to the side so I can concentrate without being distracted by analyzing something and losing my thread of storyline. It is the equivalent of pausing a movie every five seconds to think about what just happened, what it means, how it applies to the story, and a million other things. For example, I took a class in Etymology last winter semester. Ever since, whenever I come across interesting or difficult words, I try to parse them in my head. It is a compulsive thing that I can stop if I try, but it is like a knee jerk reaction. The same has gone for literary theory. Every piece I learn inevitably claws its way into even my personal reading, which ruins the suspension of disbelief required in order for me to really sink into a book. But the upside to this is it allows for a deeper reading of materials, even if my progress is slowing to a tortoise-like pace. I do like digging for meaning in literature, but I do wish that it would turn itself off once in a awhile and let me enjoy a novel without trying to figure out what it all “really means.”

P.S. The books I’m reading currently:
Rob Thurman, Slashback
Robert Harris, Pompeii
Glenda Larke, Stormlord’s Exile
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

When those are done, there’s a always a thousand more to find. I still have at least a dozen novels on my list from book recommendations my Shakespeare professor gave last semester. I look forward to graduation so I can read outside of my lunch break at work once again.

The Future of English

What is the future of the study of English? We have been talking a lot about it in several different classes of mine, recently. I do not think English studies are going to go away. Yes, enrollment has dropped for it, but that does not mean it is going to disappear as a discipline. That would be just ridiculous. Writing is one of the best tools of communication out there. It puts ideas, thoughts, and discourse down in a permanent manner so that it can be reviewed as needed whenever a person wants to. Frankly, no matter what, we are always going to need our English scholars, because the world needs people to traverse the intricacies and delicate labyrinths of our terribly difficult language. It may not have the same face that we are used to, but it will be there.

Companies need people with proficient writing skills to work for them. That indicates some form and manner of instruction in how to write. In my job, I need my writing skills in order to communicate effectively with clients. At times, I need to take complicated documents and interpret them for clients in a simple, easy to understand manner. I could not do this without having training in writing skills. To communicate effectively in the business world, you need more than just a rudimentary knowledge of English in order to be successful. And this applies everywhere. You need writing skills in order to communicate and explain things. That means English studies will survive. You need people to learn it for jobs, and people to teach it to them. What needs to change to fit the modern world? The best ways for communication today is from texting, email, and social media. It is quick and easy. Both my sisters use their smartphones for work. It seems not even an hour will pass without at least one message coming through from work. Same goes for my father, except in his case it is almost every ten minutes. How do you deal with all this information, how do you process it? Well, as I have been told countless times by all of them: learn to write, to communicate succinctly and quickly. It is how you stay afloat in that busy world. If you can write, you have an edge.

Spreading Literature

How do you spread your love for literature into the world? What a difficult question. It is not like sharing music, which can be done by giving a cd, sharing a link to www.youtube.com, 8track, or opening it from your personal collection on your computer, and other myriad ways. But one could liken the various tastes one has in music to that variety of tastes one may have in literature. But, generally speaking, everyone likes at least some kind of music. Some people, however, genuinely dislike reading at all. And there are a variety of reasons for it: social stigma, bad experience, lack of interest, problems with dyslexia, etc. How do you breach such a gap? Can it?

I do think that the gaps can be breached, but it is a matter of time, effort, and willingness of the one you are trying to bring into the fold of reading. A friend of mine loves manga and comics, but cannot stand reading any other type of books. He connects to things on a more visual basis, so just reading pure text does not interest him for the most part. It is not a lack of maturity or lack of willingness to try to read purely text-based books that prevents him from branching out. I still cannot think of a way to introduce a different style of book to him.

For general public, how can they be reached? Seeing the little lending library at Frog Island in Ypsilanti impressed me greatly. Sure, the collection they were offering at the time was not very good, but it is a start towards finding a way to get people to read. It is enticing, like a piece of magic. With any luck, people will take notice and it will grow and help people find a way to learn and grow.

To me, literature serves as many purposes as music. It saddens, gladdens, encourages, discourages, teaches, lifts the mind, opens windows to new worlds, and so very much more. And I want to share all of it with everyone. I want them to see what I see, feel what I feel. I want them to see the Shire in their minds, seek the name of the wind, follow the guidance of Virgil through the perils of the Inferno , enter the world of epics with the clashing of lances in the songs of deeds and hear the Chanson du Roland in the context that I do…I want to help them grow, to understand. The world is easier to comprehend if you know how it developed to become what it is.

Some people are easier to help get started reading than others. A friend of mine gladly accepted the two paper bags of books I gave him as a going away present-he was returning back to his old home in North Carolina. I let him pick some books of his own and then found some others that I thought he might enjoy. He was very receptive to new things, even if he never heard of them before. But not everyone is so flexible. I made a deal with my sister. She loved the Twilight book series, so I agreed I would read them all if she would just read one of the ones I love. I chose Interview With a Vampire for her and dutifully read that dreadful, awful series to completion within two days, fulfilling my end of the bargain. This happened four years ago and I still have not quite forgiven her for only reading one chapter before tossing the book I chose aside, declaring it boring. To me, that is an awful thing to do. It is incomprehensible to me how she can have such good taste-she introduced my to Sidney Portier’s autobiography, A Portrait of a Man , and then display an utter lack by getting into a series with a horrible cast of flat characters, terrible plot, and insidious ideas about how a girl should think and act. I did not mind that she did not like the book I chose, I just was mad she did not finish her end of the bargain. I have tried many other methods to get people reading, but no one method has worked for all of them.

So what can we as a whole do? I think street book fairs are a good way to get out there, set up tables and sell them like they do at libraries, for 25 or 50 cents for a paperback. I would have the operators engaging with people passing by, inviting them to browse and trying to get them excited about something interesting. Or those lending libraries. That is a great idea and I hope they continue to flourish.

I love what television has been doing lately, making a show from a book series, like Game of Thrones. How many people have been diving into the world of literature, just from that alone? How many people picked up The Lord of the Rings series based off of interest in the movies? If you can just get a person’s foot just a bit wet, maybe they will find the interest in jumping in the pool, metaphorically speaking.