Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trapped Under Glass

Now, we're stuck in Dead Week again.

Last quarter, this was one of my favorite weeks out of the whole year. Christmas, and its related delights, hung its sugarplums almost within reach, and the whole house was quiet, as people with much more stressful schedules than mine buried their heads in their books, like ostriches bury their heads in sand. I was left to my own devices - specifically, my laptop and cell phone - to Pinterest away to my little naive heart's content. I had no cares for Finals, as I already knew I had them in the bag. All Dead Week was, for me, was a waiting game.

And now, it's morphed into something completely different.

Frantically jotting notes, tearing through past papers, trying to figure out exactly what was going on in that one tricky book section, and moreover, trying to avoid thinking about what kind of detrimental effect failing would have on my steadily-climbing GPA, are all I know now. Sleep is a luxury I too often abuse; food, the same.

However, instead of freaking out over it like I am wont to do, I wrapped myself in the pages of one of my favorite novels: The Bell Jar. I had known for a while that I wanted to profile it for a College Fashion article, and I thought this would be a great way to take out multiple birds with one stone, instead of taking out multiple UW peers with one angry toss of my increasingly non-supportive laptop.

For those who have not yet been sucked into the wild and chaotic mind of nineteen-year-old Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar is the tumultuous tale of a prize-winning self-loather, whose disbelief in her own beauty and talent give way to a crippling depression, suicide attempt, and internment in a psychiatric facility in the 1950s. The novel holds a tragic legacy all its own, by way of the history of its author, Sylvia Plath, who wrote the book semi-autobiographically, and successfully committed suicide about a month after it was published for the first time.

The quintessentially mid-century feminist masterpiece tore open a new space for the discussion of the taboo topic of mental health issues in modern communication, and it is thanks to her expert descriptions of  the ultimate bleakness of the human mind,  that allow for more current, frank discussion of public issues like depression and suicide, as well as female sexuality and career and life opportunities for women.

The Bell Jar is one of my favorites for several reasons:
1. The narrative style is unique and engaging - being told in a surprisingly-organized narrative format, portraying what is a tragedy with uncharacteristic sarcasm, humor, and irony,
2. Which additionally enthralls the reader by way of riveting, fast-paced turns of events that simultaneously enrapture you in the plot further, while also proving to be as equally disorienting as engaging,
3. The topic is one not often discussed in modern literature - and definitely never communicated with such vividly excruciating detail,
4. And the novel simply fell into my lap (courtesy of my mother) at a time in my life when I really, really needed to feel like I had an ally. I did in Esther.

In adapting it for College Fashion, I had naively assumed that my own passion for the literature would be transcribed easily into an article. I forgot completely about how, despite the novel's success, issues like female empowerment by way of sexuality, and the precarious mental states of depression and anxiety, could reduce any competent person's conversation to a smoldering pile of wreckage like the twin taboo time bombs they are.

The first comment - quickly deleted by the swaddling comfort of my Editor-in-Chief - was received, and unfortunately, internalized just as quickly as it was removed. From someone named Stephanie, whose network address betrayed a link to Penn State's campus:
Thanks for your input, Stephanie. And while plenty of people chimed in after her now-invisible, malicious comment, talking about how great the article was, and how much they loved The Bell Jar, there were still plenty more commentators - much more proficient in the use of common grammar, punctuation, and capitalization than Stephanie - who were just as willing to claim that my actions were a mark against the iconic novel, accusing me of trivializing mental illness, and "dragging" fashion of the piece. One also tried to do my job for me, telling me why the outfits I had adapted out of themes for the novel were better off elsewhere, or simply made for the sake of chasing trends (then again, I am on a FASHION WEBSITE, so I don't see how they could fault me for that last piece of criticism).

Of course, it was gratifying when one of my detractors later admitted to never having actually read the novel (then WHY were you even involved in the discussion in the FIRST place?), those mild feelings of triumph were negated immediately when I received a second comment from our old friend, Stephanie: "WOW i like how you deleted my comment. Once again, THIS WAS TERRIBLE. and you clearly didnt understand the bell jar"

Wow, indeed. Out of the nineteen comments on the article, five were posted (as in, were deemed inoffensive enough to actually be posted) by those who disagreed with my work, three were posted by me defending my work, and nine were posted by those who loved my work. (If you can tell that the math doesn't add up, another posted about how she would read the book for the issues presented, regardless of my adaptation, and another was simply a rather impassioned plea for me to profile S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders).

SO, what was initially a method for me to achieve a happier attitude as well as strike out a deadline for CF, ended up opening a much larger and more impressive can of snakes than I had ever intended to belabor myself with during one of the most stressful times of Winter Quarter. I can't truly say that I'm happy with what I did, because I depend entirely too much on the good opinion of my peers. Maybe it's just because I know that this year's crop of Daffodil Princesses trooped to libraries across Pierce County today - one of my favorite Princess appearances! - but I feel like I'm missing out on a little lovin'.

Well, I'm certainly not finding it in any of these study notes.

Read my College Fashion article on the Bell Jar, and weigh the issues for yourself, here:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Latest on College Fashion

Just because I'm short on time this week, this will only be a shameless plug, instead of a full-on article discussing why I love my subject matter - Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein - quite so much!

Please go read my article on College Fashion, by following the link below:

Hopefully my schedule opens up soon, and I can take a little time to write to you more well-roundedly about what I've been reading lately.

Love you all muchly, and here's to hoping you have a great Tuesday! :)

Change your Scenery, Change your Attitude

I'm all about giving my opinions on books; hence, this blog, that I've been running for more than two and a half years now. So, would you like to know what my absolute, one hundred percent, least favorite book is, of all time?

It's shockingly easy to say, especially for someone who simply loves books in general: Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. It is by far and away my least favorite book, and I make this known quite readily. In fact, I've used my frustrated hatred of that specific book to mock all of Hemingway's writing openly: about how his terse, overly-condensed writing style is like eating straight, grainy bouillon cubes, about his deceptive descriptions that refuse to give you the full story, about how his penchant for drinking and eating took up more room than they would have in an issue of Food and Wine magazine,  about how I'm confused how someone who comes across as such a sexist pig every time he writes about women could ever have been married not only once, but four times. There was nothing about this man that I liked, and I was confused about his ability to make the reader sympathetic to the plights of his subjects, when he, himself, and in extension, his writing, could all be so thoroughly unlikable.

Now, would you like to know which book is the best that I've read in at least the past two years? Would you even believe me if I told you, that I truly fell in love with the tight-knit, yet not-easily-traverseable phrases, the setting and impeccable descriptions, the ability to make new friends across the span of a page, and the sheer wonder of the effects of complete time travel that came across in the fitting of a conversation, of another work by Hemingway: A Moveable Feast.

This collection of memoirs from Hemingway's life in the city of Paris in the 1920s is expertly crafted, like some kind of passport back in space and time, to what Woody Allen guaranteed us in Midnight in Paris was the most amazing time and place ever. The book includes such grandiose names and legacies as those of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maxford Ford, as well as one of Hemingway's closest friends, Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda. Overall, the inner workings of this elite set of almost-ex-pat bohemians living in the most romantic city in the world, making a mean and meager living in Europe while their home country was drowning in excess, and finding joy in their own humility and costlessness, was truly transformative to read. Involving discussions on Love, Truth, Bravery, and, of course, a lot of Food and Drinking, this book not only felt like a vacation for my mind - despite the unseasonably sunny weather we're getting here in Seattle - but also a bit of a trip of the heart.

However, that's not to say that old Hem's got it all right. His characterizations of people are still incredibly bothersome for me: he is incredibly condemnatory in the vices and follies of others, without looking to exorcise his own personal demons (and obviously he has many). He constantly labels other people as drunks,  racists, or idiots, without seeing the same in himself, and he really is sexist. The problem is, from the limited viewpoint of the reader, we take everything he says in truth, and because of his oftentimes extreme differences in what is absolutely good or absolutely bad, we can be left with a skewed view of Hemingway's reality in Paris. Despite his work in fiction, and his concessions to critiques that even his own work as a journalist or in his memoirs contains some elements of fiction, we are forced to believe - due to the limited scope of the author's viewpoints - that everything he says is right. And clearly, some of it is not right.

But that fiction he paints is so wonderful. The setting - the descriptions of Paris - make this an almost-guidebook, simply because of all the street and restaurant names he delivers explicitly. His work can be terse and over-condensed, just like I remember it to be, but occasionally, these chunky blocks of phrases and words swirl into a long and winding description, like a cobblestone street disappearing around a bend in the road. His elucidations of food and drink make an enormous amount of sense in the context of the setting, and , of course, the many appearances of his famous friends are incredibly interesting as well!

Overall, while my opinion has not changed, in regards to how much I intensely dislike Farewell to Arms, this book is really, truly something special, and I enjoyed it immensely. Now, my question is, what would a book like this look like now, if someone attempted to create something quite like it today? If there exists such a thing, I want to find it. Because I'm not quite ready to come back to the reality of a rapidly approaching Finals Week just yet.