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Age is just a number

"Someday if we're lucky, we'll get old enough
To finally be embarrassed by the crazy things we've done
Be just like our parents, responsible and bland
No risk, no excitement hey let's get it while we can 'cause"


Listening to this song, I remembered seeing the movie "Best Friends" with my parents when I was about 10 or 11 years old.  I remember my Mom being SHOCKED at the concept of a couple taking a shower together!

A few years later, I went looking for Mom and couldn't find her ANYWHERE!  Daddy was in the shower and I knocked on the door to ask if he knew where she was.  Mom popped her head out from behind the curtain.  I said, "Oh, there you are.  I thought Daddy was taking a shower."  Suddenly, his big bass voice bellows out from the shower, "I am!"  Mom got this stoopid grin on her face and they both started giggling like teenagers!  I was so dumbfounded and utterly speechless (a rarity for me in those days) that I completely forgot what I was gonna ask her and just ran out in a humiliated huff!  Their laughter followed me all the way to the other side of the concrete block house.  I pretended to be furious to the point of not speaking to them for about an hour afterwards... but secretly, I was thrilled!  What kid DOESN'T want to see her parents in love and acting like twitterpated bunnies in a Disney flick?

I thought that kind of love was my birthright.  Hell, my grandfather had a prescription for Viagra and threatened to carry my then 80+yo grandmother up the stairs to ravish her!  Now, I'm trying NOT to imagine being their age... and alone.

On the bright side, what I still have from them is the knowledge that age is nothing but a number.  I can act whatever age I feel in my heart!  The trouble is finding others to share in my adventures.  I don't fancy becoming a Cougar, but so many of my friends seem content to just grow old.
Before the school Valentine's Dance

May the love they have for each other help guide them to a better life-love than mine.

What a woody question!

At a recent Toastmasters meeting, someone asked the group, "If you were a tree, what sort of tree would you be?"  This was part of the Table Topics session where anyone is welcome to stand up and give a 1-2 minute response.  The question was rather boring, but the answer one young woman provided really got me thinking.

According to this woman, there was really only one "right" answer to this question, especially if you are ever asked it in an interview.  "I would be an Oak," she said, and went on to describe all the employment-worthy traits, both real and imagined, that an oak allegedly possesses.  I barely recall a single word she said after that.  I was struck by the insincerity of it all.  Why ask such a question if there's only one right answer?  And how many times does an interviewer need to hear that same answer before s/he realizes that the candidate is lying?  And if I were ever asked that question, what would my true answ.....

MESQUITE!

Heh... that didn't take long.  Why Mesquite?  As a Native Texan, I grew up climbing Mesquite trees and scarfing Mesquite barbecue, so the tree has a special place in my heart, but in what ways are we similar?

The Mesquite is often misunderstood.  Most know it merely as a scrub-brush... not a real tree, but that's because they've only ever seen the small ones.  True, a young Mesquite is weak, scrawny, spindly and not all that attractive.  It's also rather unpredictable and seems to pop up EVERYWHERE like a bad weed!  Few survive to prove the cynics wrong.

Those that do, however, grow wide and tall with strong, handsome, resilient limbs and beautiful, lacy foliage obscuring nasty thorns.  I've heard stories that the thorns can be poisonous, but having been scratched by them more times than I can count, I think that's more of tall-tale told by Texans to keep Yankees away.  Each Mesquite seems to branch in a direction and shape unique unto itself, formed by some unseen master, or by the individual will of the tree, alone... who can tell?  The one in my front yard was shaped like a hand reclining backward from its wrist -- you could literally walk right up its main trunk several feet into the air, if you had a good running start.  No better jungle gym was ever created!  Texan children of all ages, from toddler to crone, have explored the branches of the Mesquite, hopping, swinging, bouncing on its limbs, ducking this way and that to avoid thorns and reach greater heights.

The Mesquite provides sustenance for both man and beast.  Bees gather nectar to produce Mesquite Honey which, I've heard, has a distinctively pleasing flavor.  The beans feed wild animals, such as coyotes.  Fermenting beans are like crack to cattle.  Dry bean pods can be harvested after dropping from the trees, then ground into flour or boiled for jelly.  If picked at the peak of ripeness (light brown, not yet fallen), they can be used for Mesquite Wine.  Candies, puddings... the list goes on!  There are rumors that the leaves of the Mesquite can be used as the basis of some traditional medicines, but what the Mesquite is best known for in the Southwest is the flavor its wood gives to Texas barbecue.  Hickory smoke ain't got nothin' on Mesquite!

So, if ever I were asked that question during an interview (and I do hope I am, someday), I will give my inquisitor an answer s/he would never expect:

I am a Mesquite.  I'm much more than, at first, I seem to be.  My outer beauty hides fierce defenses.  I am strong, yet resilient, versatile, adaptable, unpredictable, complex... and I have a lot to give.

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John To Thank

      Brown eyes.  That's what I first noticed when I came to my senses.  Soft, kind, concerned, and as deep as they were dark.  Surrounding those eyes was a round face, olive complexion, with a slightly pointed chin - almost elfin.  The face was neither smiling nor frowning… just staring curiously.  A fringe of short, nearly-black hair framed the face of the pseudo-stranger, a boy in the class ahead of me.  For a moment, I wondered why he was staring at me… then I realized it was because I was staring at HIM!  Dangit… I'd done it again.
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(Written in 2008 for Honors English Comp II as part of my Final.  My professor's feedback was:  "Aly, You win the award: best story written for the B Paper. Good analysis, too. Your B Paper is accepted. How about submitting your story to the ACC lit journal, Rio Review?")

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The Essence of “Aly”

One of my favorite songs, performed by Pink, goes, "Don't Let Me Get Me!" I relate to a lot of the emotions expressed in that song, but for the most part, I've always "gotten" who I am. It was everyone else who couldn't "get me," just like they couldn't "get" my name. If you know my name, then you know me.

 

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(Written in 2002 for English Comp I at North Lake College.  Assignment was to write about your name(s).  My professor asked if she could keep a copy and use it for future classes as an example of a well-written essay.)

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+ What's the significance of the title?
Jerry’s mind is bound to wander back to younger, if not better, times – most of which were devoted to herding longhorn cattle.

+ What role does the setting play in the story?
The house on the prairie gives an impression of being far removed from everything else.  Sure, there are neighbors nearby, but they are unavailable.  Jerry is out of reach and far above all help for that Saturday night.  His prison may be a gilded one, but it’s a prison, nonetheless.

+ What is the main character's conflict? Not just the physical, obvious one?
Jerry’s mind is full of ideas.  His heart is full of compassion.  Yet he cannot follow-through with his thoughts and concern, so he tries to distract himself from his current situation.  His efforts are unsuccessful because he cannot physically remove himself from the situation, so he then tries to come to terms with it by looking over at Berta May.  Round and round he goes with this, trying to find some comfort, some way out, some solution, but eventually all he can do is wait to be rescued, himself.

+ The writer is an art lover. How does that translate into his writing if at all?
The writing was very visual.  The descriptions were long and quite detailed.  You could see him paint one word-picture after another and you felt like you were right there in the tub, on the horse, etc.

+ What are we to make of his dream?
Our dreams often mirror the stresses in our lives.  They help us dissect our problems and process them so that they do not destroy us.  Obviously, death was a huge issue for Jerry at that time.  Perhaps the whore symbolized the desire he felt for young Berta May – a desire that was now, in more ways than one, deceased.  Finally, I think the part with the cattle and the quicksand was emblematic of his inability to rescue the helpless girl on the floor, as well as a representation of his loss upon her passing – like a part of him had been ripped away.

+ What does the story say about getting older?
Jerry’s body may have gotten old and crippled, but his mind is as sharp as ever, as young as always.  That is why he reminisces so about his days as a cowboy.  They weren’t fun, in retrospect, but they were exciting and just the very act of being YOUNG was full of pleasure and exhilaration.  Most of us wouldn’t trade the wisdom age brings us for the virility of youth, but when we were young enough not to know better, waking up every day was an adventure.

+ Talk about the story's last line.
Jerry cared about the young woman who took care of him.  There was nothing he could do to save her, nothing more he could do for her upon her death, accept give her body the respect and priority she deserved.  I think he was also feeling ornery, like if he couldn’t get himself out of the tub, he’d just die there.  He may have also been feeling guilty to have lived so long that he could no longer take care of himself, while his very young caretaker, a young lady who SHOULD have had her whole life ahead of her, lay dead on the bathroom floor.  Perhaps he simply preferred to sit there and mourn her passing a while longer.
 

The textbook we are reading is entitled, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication - Identities in a Global Community.

 

SPCH 1311 Essay #1Collapse )


INSTRUCTIONS:

Write a two-page (about 500 words) essay involving one of the pieces we've looked at so far (story, film, song). 

Your goal is to make a clear argument about the story's "meaning" (remember no morals of the story or how we should live life; just how life "is.") and how a particular character in the story illustrates it. Then PROVE that argument with an organized essay that uses examples from the piece to prove your point. Please don't "stack" quotes. After using quotes explain why they made your point.

I'm looking for a strong beginning, middle and end. Open in an interesting manner. Stick to your main argument. Find a creative way to look at the piece.

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Discussions on India

The comments below were based on the following links (the last three are videos):

 


Would that more places in America would learn to compromise the past with the future!  We’re pretty good at combining various cultures and adding their distinction to our own, but we often forget to incorporate the charm and assets of the past with advances into the future.


I found it ironic that English is to India what Spanish is to America – without it, finding a job is getting harder and harder.  As things currently stand, Spanish is still not quite an absolute necessity here, yet, but it is definitely past the point of being merely “nice to have.”


I was struck by the comment regarding the poor becoming immune to disease due to their constant exposure.  This fact may very well assure their place in the future evolution of humanity.  I wonder if the rich and powerful ever think about that?  Maybe it’s better for everyone if they don’t!


I was fascinated and encouraged by the story about the children’s bank.  I have often thought that America does its youth a disservice by denying them accountability until the age of 18.  If more of our pre-teens and “tweens” were responsible for making and managing their own money, perhaps they would avoid deadly temptations such as drugs, violence, crime, gang-membership and casual promiscuity.  I know my family’s financial problems helped keep me away from such things.


Finally, I was not as shocked and dismayed by the babies-off-the-roof story as other may be.  So long as there have been no injuries from the practice, why ban it?  If it ain’t broke…  A little risk is good for everyone – perhaps this ritual lays a foundation for future risk-taking that may lead to a better life.  Maybe the fear and excitement is good for the heart.  Certainly, studies have shown that gravitational forces are good for the development of infantile brains – that’s why babies LOVE being thrown in the air and toddlers twirl around and around until they get sick.  Most primitive habits have beneficial motives and science has surprisingly backed these up.  Still, if it were MY baby they were throwing off the roof… I think I’d need a doctor!

"Redfish" is by Rick Bass

I do apologize about the length here.  I tried to do a cut, but LJ is just all screwed up right now and I can't even begin to figure out how to fix it.

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My thoughts were all over while reading this story, so I answered each question as it came to me – not necessarily in order.  Reading back over them, I can see my thoughts evolving (or devolving as the case may be) the further I delved into the story:

+ Comparisons to "The Death Mask of Pancho Villa"?
In the previous story, the narrator and his friend had grown apart and were unlikely to share as many crazy adventures as they once had.  In this story, the insanity has yet to meet its end.  Also, this story was narrated by the one friend who was least likely to grow out of such behavior, whereas “Death Mask” was narrated by the other side.

+ What's the role of setting here?
It started out fairly benign… almost magical.  As the story, and the drinking, progressed, however, it became more and more malevolent.  Perhaps it was meant to lull us into a false sense of security – just two old friends fishing, what harm could there be in that?  Then the ploys begin to be revealed… disable the car, move the bonfire by hand (no mention of getting burned?), steal horses and take them out into the surf to drown?!?  The idyllic setting became more and more terrifying with each paragraph.

+ What does the story say about marriage?
Maybe I’m reading my own life into this, but I believed it was saying that life is best spent sharing everything with one very special person who really cares about you and not just themselves.  The narrator was manipulating Kirby.  Kirby should have been more understanding about the dogs and cared for them both as he cared for Tricia.  Tricia had every right to be angry and Kirby shouldn’t have thrown his little passive-aggressive tantrums by ignoring her dog and then running off on some foolish, and possibly deadly, adventure with his crazy friend.

+ What do you make of the last line?
I think the narrator was putting the responsibility of fear and caution onto the poor horses!  Or maybe he thought it was a perfect scheme to get his friend out deeper into the ocean so they could drown together.  I find it interesting that this story is written from a perspective of looking back, and yet it ends rather abruptly with no indication that they ever got home.

+What stereotype comes up for you when you think of two men fishing?
I remember a Sunday Morning comic my Dad once cut out and kept.  I believe it was “Rick O’Shay.”  One of the characters was “fishing” – he had his pole propped up and a line in the water, but instead of watching for a bite, he was lying back on the grass with his cowboy hat over his eyes.  Another character walks up and asks if the fish are biting… he says they are not.  The second character asks what bait he’s using… he says he’s not using ANY bait, because “I don’t want any fish botherin’ me while I’m fishin’.”  I think most men fish as an excuse to sit around, drink beer, shoot the sh*t, escape the chaos of everyday life and just enjoy nature for a while… not that any of those reasons are necessarily bad ones.

+Did the men in this story ever feel afraid?
I did not sense any true fear while reading this story.  Truth be told, I didn’t even sense any real CAUTION… I think the characters were both too drunk to be cautious.


+What do you think of the voices and actions of the men? Who do they remind you of? What literary techniques does the author use to provide the above effect?

All I could think of was that they were drunk and stupid.  This seems to be a recurring theme in the stories we’ve read, so far – is this one of the stereotypes of Texas?  I sure hope not!


Perhaps the narrator was enacting some jealous ploy to have his friend all to himself… perhaps for eternity?  Maybe I’m reading too many dark themes into this story, but that’s all that makes sense to me.

+What role does the ocean play?
All I could think was that it was the tiger waiting at the door.  Either the depths or the currents or the temperature exacerbated by the wind and water or the sand trapping their car or some airborne infection permeating the wounds on their hands… one way or another, their lives were in danger from the ocean.

+Discuss your thoughts on how the opinion of the narrator toward Tricia fluctuates through the story.
I have to wonder if the characters, particularly the narrator, were slowly dying of hypothermia and alcohol abuse.  Their ideas just got wilder and stupider.  Perhaps the narrator’s jealousy was diluted by the alcohol.  Perhaps his memories of her became more pleasant as the temperature dropped.  Considering when this was written, at least a decade before cell phone usage became common, and taking into account that their car was horrendously stuck, perhaps the narrator was calling Tricia to tell her goodbye from his friend – perhaps he knew they would meet an untimely end.

+One paragraph in the story appears to stand out, with a different voice, page 500, "It was like a murder or sin..." What do you make of this paragraph, and the symbolism within?
I found it interesting that they would go to such trouble to catch one fish, mutilate it, toss all but the juiciest bit and use that only to catch another fish – especially when trout are just as likely as redfish to bite a live shrimp.  Perhaps this was a hint to the narrator’s dark intentions.