‘Chella

In the caboose of the Amtrak train stood a strange pair of individuals: a blond-haired lady, likely in her late sixties, leaned on a railing across from the spitting image of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. The older woman, struggling to hide her discomfort, awkwardly moved to sit next to the man in an attempt to continue their dwindling conversation. The wide-eyed twenty-something grasped a duct-taped cardboard box tightly to his chest, trying — failing — to hide it beneath his windbreaker. Perplex’d in the extreme, I approached the train car, hoping to figure out what the hell was going on.

The southbound train would depart from San Jose in half an hour. I stood by the doorway of the caboose, out of sight of the two. I listened in on their conversation:

“Look, lady. We’ve already been over this. I’m voting for Bernie Sanders, end of story,” the gentleman firmly stated.

The woman replied, “Well, alright. I just really want to understand more of what your generation is all about. We’re both headed to the same festival, right? The least we could do is stick together.”

“I guess you’re right,” the young man responded. “Is this gonna be your first time at Coachella?”

“Yes, actually. Well, my husband Bill and I went to Woodstock when we lived in New York. But that was a long time ago. I’m sure things have changed a lot since then,” she sighed.

“Well, now we’re talking! So you’re trying to have a good time this weekend? I’ve got just the stuff for you!”

The man plopped the box onto the seat next to him, and without hesitating, ripped open the cardboard flaps on top. I stealthily glanced into the train, and what I saw I will never forget. I saw Hillary Clinton nervously handing over a crisp twenty to a sketchy hippie in exchange for a small Ziploc bag of ‘shrooms. Her flower crown rested atop her perfectly dyed hair and her map of the Bay Area sat folded at her feet. That’s when I knew that she would do anything to court the millennial vote, even if it meant going undercover to a druggie music festival in the California desert.

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Ooh he mad

Hamlet tells his friends that he will pretend to be mad. His act is extremely convincing, though. Is it really an act, or does Hamlet slip into madness during the play?

 

In order to discuss whether Hamlet ever truly falls into madness, we must first define what constitutes it. For the sake of this discussion, I will consider these following behaviors as characteristic of madness:

  • Unpredictability or unclear motives to others; extreme irrationality
  • Negative behavior that does not serve a greater purpose (violent or otherwise)
  • Disregard for personal wellbeing or that of one’s family/friends
  • Lack of adherence to social norms or rules

I believe that Hamlet’s behavior absolutely satisfies these criteria, thereby making him “mad”. Firstly, he lies to practically every character in the play at some point, including his closest friends. He does not trust anyone except for Horatio, and actively schemes against his own family and friends. Furthermore, his erratic behavior leads to the death of several important characters, including Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia. Though he does not intend to kill Polonius, Hamlet’s severe lack of judgment renders this irrelevant; he wildly stabbed behind a curtain when he detected movement, and expressed no remorse while dragging the old man’s corpse away in front of his own mother. All in all, Hamlet absolutely can be considered “mad” to the outside world.

But, within his own mind, has Hamlet truly gone mad? Though there is no way to be certain, I would argue that Hamlet does, in fact, lose his grip on his sanity. One can speculate as to whether Hamlet’s initial decision to feign madness as a cover for his strange behavior is triggered by his stress and desire to lash out at others, and not as part of an elaborate scheme. After all, for the majority of the play, Hamlet has no plan. He is pondering whether he should act, not how. To me, this indicates that his behavior is not following a path, and Hamlet is simply using his grief as an excuse to seek revenge. Furthermore, Hamlet’s behavior clearly becomes more difficult to explain as the play goes on: by Act V, Hamlet is wrestling with Laertes over Ophelia’s corpse in order to prove that he loved her more. This is simply indefensible. Hamlet has entirely abandoned his sense of right and wrong, succumbing to his “Id” in the Freudian sense. Though his behavior may not appear to meet the traditional medical criteria for psychosis, Hamlet is certainly mad for all practical intents and purposes.

 

Note: Unfortunately, since I already turned in my copy of Hamlet to you, I was not able to cite specific lines of the text. However, I believe that I made it clear that I did, in fact, read the play, and that I grasp the events and ideas contained within it well enough to discuss this nuanced question.

Packson Jollock

Obviously, this painting is visually very complex. The first thing I noticed was my brain’s tendency to try to find recognizable shapes and letters, which is understandable, given that the human brain is adept at finding patterns in chaos (though this is not always a beneficial tendency). I “saw” a hand reaching in from the top right of the painting, which immediately reminded me of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, and subsequently began to speculate as to whether the hand is symbolic. Perhaps, I pondered, it is analogous to God creating the Earth out of nothing. I don’t know. The objective of abstract art is to allow the viewer to create his own interpretation of the piece — each person’s experience differs.

To me, the gist of what the speaker in “Number 1 by Jackson Pollock (1948)” is saying is that abstract art can be just as profound and inspiring as literature. The speaker articulates this idea when she says, “No similes here. Nothing/ But paint.” Furthermore, abstract art not only has the capacity to stimulate unique connections between ideas, but also to generate new ideas altogether. This is quite clear in the final lines of the poem, in which the speaker states, “How to realize his question/ Let alone his answer?” I absolutely agree with the speaker in the poem: I appreciate and seek to better understand the importance of all art forms. If only more people were willing to look beyond the seemingly random brushstrokes of a painting such as this in order to reveal a deeper significance within it — within themselves.

The Art of Sitting Still

Write a few paragraphs about what you’ve got going on, or what you are waiting to get enough time to do, or what you are looking forward to doing this spring and summer that isn’t school related.

Is it bad that I haven’t thought that far ahead? I can honestly say that I’ve made hardly any plans. On days like today, when I have relatively little homework and no obligations (to work, band, GSA, Scouts, or any of the other crap I’m involved in), I don’t know what to do with my spare time. Over the years I’ve developed this weird thing where I can’t simply sit still and do nothing. I have to be working on something — an admissions or scholarship essay, some upcoming audition, or something else hanging over my head. And on a beautiful Saturday like today, when I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, I don’t know what to do with myself. My life is sort of in limbo right now: I’m awaiting six more college decision letters that aren’t going to arrive for another month, and there is nothing I can do right now to help clarify my future path. As someone so accustomed to drowning in homework and commitments, I’m uncomfortable just relaxing.

I resent that.

I resent that I can’t take a day off without feeling guilty and lazy. I hate that the path I’ve taken through high school has transformed me into a stress-filled busybody. I despise my inability to let go, to actually f***ing commit to this senioritis thing.

I wasn’t this way during the summer, and I know I will shift out of this mindset again in the coming months, temporarily quitting the rat race. But now, to answer the prompt, here’s some things I’d like to do differently moving forward:

  1. Continue exercising more and eating better. I started running again a few months ago, just for fitness’ sake, and decided recently to start looking into 5/10Ks and other races as a means of motivation. Hopefully once school begins winding down, and after I ask for fewer hours at work, I will have time to run and lift more frequently.
  2. Go to more concerts. I’m a huge music lover, but I haven’t gone to many performances in the last few months (excluding Austin City Limits). I already made plans to see an alt-rock band I really like with my girlfriend in May, and there’s an electro group coming to Houston in April that I might try to see with a coworker/friend. Maybe I’ll try to go to Free Press Summer Fest in Houston in June?
  3. Spend way more time with my girlfriend. Since our time together is inevitably limited due to our diverging college paths, I want to make the most out of it. She’s busy too, but I hope we can find more time to hang out in the coming months.
  4. Broaden my social circle. I tend to keep only a few close friends, but I want to change that — not that having a small circle is necessarily bad. As I begin to transition toward college life, I hope to grow my field of acquaintances and spend more time with groups of people. Again, once I have less homework and fewer commitments, I’ll be able to spend more time hanging out Thursday-Sunday.

All in all, I can’t wait to recapture that carefree attitude I had last summer. I’m sure that once I figure out where I’m going to school next year, everything else will sort itself out. But for now, I just need to keep my head above water.

Hamlet Q1

Well for starters, Polonius’ and Reynoldo’s names were changed to “Corambis” and “Montano”. This obviously reflects the fact that, at the time of the first Quarto’s publication, William Shakespeare had yet to sign his endorsement with Polo Ralph Lauren, and therefore had not changed the name of Corambis to Polonius to reflect this financial agreement. Furthermore, since Shakespeare and rapper French Montana had yet to begin their famous decade-long feud, Montano’s name had not yet been changed to Reynoldo.

Furthermore, whoever wrote this copy of Hamlet inexplicably stuck the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy in the middle of Act II. I don’t really know how much of a difference this makes in the meaning of the play, since it’s pretty tough to tell what’s going on anyways.

How much money these people made slinging bootleg copies of Hamlet back in the day? “[T]hat is the question” (III.i.56).

Allusion and Hamartia

Coincidentally, I stumbled across a memorable allusion while reading a book for my thesis project last week. The narrator, a poor teenage son of Mexican immigrants, described his boss at a restaurant he briefly worked at as “such a f*****g Scrooge,” in reference to his manager’s stingy overtime compensation habits. He complained that the manager ripped off the undocumented workers since he knew they could not complain to the authorities without triggering their own deportation.

Hamartia is a hero’s tragic flaw. In Othello, Othello’s hamartia is his poor judgement. He fails to recognize that he is being manipulated by Iago, setting aside his analytical military mind out of jealousy. Furthermore, he has difficulty discerning who to trust: Othello never considers that Iago might be lying to him, that he is angry about being passed over for a promotion; likewise, he refuses to accept that Desdemona as been true to him.

O(ld-ass manuscripts of)thello

I’ll be completely honest: when I first looked at this blog prompt, I rolled my eyes a little. “Really? Haven’t we dissected this play enough over the past two weeks?” I wondered to myself. But, perhaps unsurprisingly to you, Mr. Wilson–I address you directly because I know no one else would regularly read this wonderful blog unless they were getting paid to do it–I actually kind of enjoyed looking at the older versions of Othello. It is easy to forget how English has evolved over the centuries into what we read and speak today, as well as how the language is cast on the page. The first thing I noticed as I perused the First Folio was simply how different the words look. “W” was “VV”, and the letter “s” often seemed to resemble the integral symbol “∫” that tends to torment me in BC Calculus the period before I visit your class, for example. What’s more, the difference between the First and Fourth Folios was dramatic: the spelling of words was so much more familiar in the more recent text, even though only sixty or so years elapsed between the publication of the First and Fourth.

Furthermore, the suggestion in the prompt to ponder the inclusion of the first word of the next page on the bottom right-hand corner of each page immediately seemed obvious to me. Since, in effect, the manuscripts we read were scripts of the play, having the next word up makes it much easier to turn the page and not have a break in the dialogue.

Pun and Satire

This week, my example of satire comes from my favorite website of all time, The Onion:

Government To Confiscate One Person’s Guns Just To Make Rest Of Them Squirm

In this post, The Onion ridicules the NRA-esque protest that the government is out to “take away your guns” and that President Obama wants to “end the Second Amendment” (not that he used to be a professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University or anything….). By casting the gun confiscation argument in a satirical light, The Onion is able to delegitimize the discussion entirely, pointing to how absurd and impractical such an undertaking would be. “In a massive, highly coordinated raid, 50 armed agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives will reportedly storm the home of a randomly selected law-abiding gun owner in the dead of night and seize every weapon on the premises. According to sources, the surprise operation has been several months in the planning stages and is being conducted entirely for the sake of watching the individual gun owner—and subsequently, the nation’s gun-rights activists as a whole—completely freak out over it.”

Though English may not be as beautiful a language as Italian or Spanish, it certainly does have its shining moments. My favorite pun I have encountered in my recent reading comes from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In chapter 13, following a lengthy discussion of the importance of soul food in the black identity through a street vendor selling yams, the narrator famously declares, “I am what I am.” Immediately when I read that line, I laughed out loud–I was on a plane, sitting by a stranger, so it was a little awkward, but the genius play on words deserved it. Not just because I understood the original context of the famous Popeye quote, but because it interjected humor into an otherwise philosophical discussion of identity and race.

Oxymoron and Paradox

Disclaimer: I am going to intentionally break the rules of this assignment in order to give (what I believe to be) a better example and explanation of these literary devices than I would have encountered in my ordinary reading during the week. Put aside your prejudices and preconceptions about rap music for a few minutes, please.

In artist ScHoolboy Q’s latest album, “Oxymoron”, Q discusses his complex life circumstances. Born and raised in a poor region of South Los Angeles, Q found himself trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime. Q became a single father as a teenager, and started selling prescription drugs soon thereafter in order to survive, since his criminal record significantly limited his access to decent, well-paying jobs. However, caught up in the rush of the drug trade, Q developed an addiction to some of the painkillers and psychiatric medicines he was selling for off-label use to others. In his song “Blind Threats”, which delves into the difficulty of having faith in a higher power when surrounded by poverty and suffering, Q repeatedly mentions “living to die”. This is an example of an oxymoron: Q is describing the perils of living a dangerous lifestyle, teetering on the brink of death with dangerous drugs in order to obtain a sensation of “feeling alive” while high.

On a larger scale, “Oxymoron”explores the difficult relationship between crime-ridden South LA and the opulent areas of the city just a few miles away, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. Though he does not state it in such blunt terms, ScHoolboy Q asks how people can live in abject poverty and receive little help or sympathy while others bask in luxury practically next-door. The United States absolutely has the power and resources to lift its poorest individuals out of squalor and into safer, more comfortable lives, yet the complication of allocating these resources and smoothing out the politics behind it make this next to impossible. This paradox of poverty is apparent to Q, who admits he is still somewhat hesitant, deep down, to give more of his earnings from his music career to his community back home in South LA. He fears that you cannot “throw more money” at a problem like poverty and make it disappear. Defeating poverty requires structural changes in the access poor communities have to education, financial advising and planning, and safety from crime. Paradoxically, with this understanding, simply giving money to someone in poverty may not make them any less poor.

Rap often gets a bad rap in the public’s eyes, and for good reason: many of the most popular songs celebrate violence, crime, the objectification of women, homophobia, dangerous images of masculinity, sexuality, and drug use, and, of course, foul language. However, it is a genre capable of producing inspiring, thought-provoking art, and should not be dismissed simply because it is rap. More often than not, the lyrics of these songs contain valuable insights into the life of young people in (often) poor, (often) black communities, and, on occasion, can stand alone as works of literature themselves, such as Kendrick Lamar’s recent album “To Pimp A Butterfly”.

Yes, I understand what oxymorons and paradoxes are. I understand that this assignment is intended to encourage me to read more and find these devices in literature. However, most of my reading is of nonfiction and/or news articles, which makes finding literary devices difficult. I feel that searching for these devices in areas I encounter on a more regular basis, such as news media and music, will help me deepen my understanding of them equally well.

Surf: An Album Review

Few albums radiate happiness and positivity like Chance the Rapper’s most recent project, Surf. Born as Chancellor Bennet, Chance’s humble beginnings in south side Chicago shaped his musical mantra. He has no record label, and views himself as both an independent artist and a member of his band, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. And Surf indeed  is an experiment in many regards: it was released for free on iTunes, dabbles in many genres, and espouses messages of hope and happiness that feel all too rare in today’s musical marketplace. Deriving inspiration from hip-hop (obviously), R&B, gospel, rock, soul, funk, and jazz, Surf is the epitome of summertime freedom. Chance’s poetic discussions of self-love and affirmation are artfully intertwined with effects-heavy trumpet solos and guest verses from major recording artists, including J. Cole, Quavo, Big Sean, and Erykah Badu, among countless others. Here’s a snippet from an especially powerful track, “Wanna Be Cool”:

Is being cool that cool? (Really?)
Is being a tool that big of a duel? (Is it?)
It doesn’t matter if a n**** is wearing Supreme
If a cool guy shits his shit’s still gonna stink
If a cool guy’s cool in the middle of the forest
Man nobody f*****g cares
So why don’t you just be the you that you know you are
You know, when nobody else is there?
You’ll be aware, it’s easy, and it’s so important
Being cool shouldn’t cost a fortune
Baby got her jeans from Goodwill
But I bet that ass look good still
Okay let’s remember that shopping at Payless
It just means that you pay less, it don’t make you bae-less
If you don’t get re-tweets, it don’t mean you say less, okay?
So I’mma post this shitty-ass selfie on IG
And I don’t care if anybody likes it or likes me, it’s cool

Albums like Surf often serve as anthems to different periods of my life. In particular, this album, released in the early summer of 2015, was the soundtrack to my soul-searching that took place between my Junior and Senior years. Each track is a completely new experience that defies summarization. In essence, Surf ‘s message is this: you’ll only find true happiness if you love yourself. The world is full of joy, so trust yourself enough to go out there and experience some of it for yourself. Live in a way that brings happiness to you and those you love. Dark winters help you appreciate the sunlight of the summer. And, above all else, everything is going to be okay.

 

Imagine how different the world could be if more artists made music like Surf.

 

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