American Literature Week 22 O Henry, London, and Bierce

Prompt: “Which of the three authors would you prefer to read on your own time? Why?”

For context the three authors in this prompt are O Henry, London, and Bierce. Ironically enough listing them this way is almost like listing most optimistic to most pessimistic. O Henry was a short story writer born in the mid 1800s. He worked on the Houston Post, and was renowned for his ability to write quality stories quite quickly and consistently. His most famous story is The Gift of the Magi, in which two lovers sacrifice what they hold dear in order to get the other a gift they will love. They realize it was not the material gift that held the significance, but their dedication and love for one another.

Another of his stories which I quite liked was The Last Leaf. This tells of a woman who is mortally ill. She sits, and watches the leaves on her ivy plant fall one by one. Shes convinced that when the last leaf falls she too will die. Her artistic neighbor, seeing her dilemma, decides to paint a leaf on the wall. So she sits, watching this leaf. But it doesn’t fall. It never falls. Eventually she realizes the power is not in this leaf, but in her own resolve. She ends up recovering from her illness.

Jack London is the second on the list. His most famous book is The Call of the Wild. In this a dog named Buck is kidnapped from his home in California and taken to the Yukon. There he is abused until a prospector rescues him. The two bond, but Buck watches the wild dogs running free and yearns to join them. It is a story of survival, adapting to ones environment, and the subconscious craving to abandon civilized society and reclaim our ancient inner wilderness. London was a Darwinist, and his focus on the evolution of nature and how it interacts with the evolution of human society makes itself known in his writing.

The last author on this list is Ambrose Bierce. He is truly the black sheep of these three authors. If O Henry focuses on the inherit virtues of humanity, and London seeks the balance between morals and instinct, then Bierce brings down the hammer of cynicism on both. He is best known for his book The Devils Dictionary. This is a book of satirical, cynical poems and definitions. For example “Achievement: The death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.” or “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

Bierce’s work is made up of a third angst, a third bitterness, and a third repressed truth that is only allowed to be discussed while under the umbrella of cynicism.

The three put back to back all have their strengths, and my deciding factor on who I personally would read depends less on their differences and more on my mood. Most days I would read O Henry. His perspective on the truths of virtue, love, and human betterment are subtle and inspiring. If there comes a day when I when I wanna sit on my porch, watch the rain, and dream of the mysteries that live just beyond my view I may read Jack London. I may find my emotions mirrored by his characters. If I’ve just been through a begrudging breakup I’ll reach for Bierce. When I want dulled anger sharpened with wit to feed my fire of casual resentment Bierce is the choice. But he would only last as long as the anger, once that subsides and I feel balanced again I’d swap for O Henry. (That is if Ethel Eliot Cook, Bill Richardson, or F Scott Fitzgerald aren’t available).

American Literature Week 21 Twain

Prompt: “Would you read more of Mark Twain’s writings even if they were not assigned in a course? Why or why not?”

I absolutely would and plan to. Both the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are classics of both yesteryear and today. They illustrate innocence, living as a free spirit, coming of age, the spirit of adventure, friendship, imagination, and learning to cope and heal from the pain of the world. They are beautiful stories, and I look forward to getting emotional reading them in their entirety.

His philosophical works are also must reads; such as his short story What is Man? In this a young man and an old man sit together and discuss their thoughts on free will, destiny, identity and other such themes. While not every idea is perfect it explores different perspectives and philosophies on life.

“Each man must decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and what isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and your country, let men label you as they may.” “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” “How little a thing can make us happy, when we feel that we have earned it.”

American Literature Week 20 Jesus and Native Americans

Prompt: “Did the Gettysburg Address use Christian language and imagery to support the Union cause?”

Much of Abraham Lincolns language in the Gettysburg Address mirrors biblical themes. The iconic start of “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” begins the speech with a gravitas akin to that in the bible. It brings a weight that although isn’t directly spiritual mirrors it in tone. He also brings up those “who gave their lives so that this nation might live”, which is unintentionally a metaphor for Jesus giving his life to save humanity. Though Lincoln didn’t directly use his platform for religious reasons he knew that the heavily religious citizens he was speaking to would be more inclined to preserve the nation if they felt it was a divine union.

Unrelated to the prompt, but somethings that flowers from my mind at the comparison is the similarities between Jesus and Native Americans. Natives for too long have been dismissed from history books because instead of being given the respect of a genuine nation they were seen as “discovery”. Jesus, at his time, was also seen as “discovery”. This discovery was unprompted for those who “claimed” it, and the reaction in both circumstances was domination and destruction.

Europeans of the time (and christianity of the time in all its forms) was very focused on repression. According to the legend of Adam and Eve people are born into sin, and from day one need to repress our natural inclinations and beg the priests to forgive us. So Europeans were extremely repressed, repressed in thought, emotion, and most extremely sexuality. Sexuality was seen as damnable, and was preached outright as the work of the devil. So when Europeans came over and saw the Natives lifestyle (a matriarchy where casual nudity, unique gender identity, and affirming ones sexuality were norms) they rationalized that these people were demonic and unworthy of respect. The same thing happened in Europe to Celtic peoples, Pagans and Gauls and anyone who refused to repress themselves. This is classic projection, the idea that “If I can’t have it you can’t either”. This is when the North American continent was “claimed”, and Europeans took it upon themselves to wash the sin from the land and destroy Native culture.

Ironically, a very similar experience happened to Jesus Christ. He lived in a time of even harsher repression, fear, and punishment. He lived in a time where those in power could kill anyone they wanted, for no other reason than they attempted to rise above the mental societal repression and decide their own truth. Jesus was one of those who rose above repression, and like the Native Americans was punished severely for doing so. The Natives were a people unrepressed, living naturally and free. Jesus was a person unrepressed, trying to live free and preaching the universal truth of love thy neighbor as you love yourself. When both of these peoples were “discovered” by a culture of repression, they were attacked and torn down.

This is what happens when fear is given power. Those who aren’t afraid are punished into being afraid. Or as Jesus and proud Natives show us, punished while still holding their truths and holding their faith above all else. As these two seemingly different, yet at their core very similar demographics show us, repression leads to bloodshed. A more uplifting lesson both of these peoples teach is love is at the core of humanity. Love is who we are when we aren’t in pain, when we aren’t afraid. Love is who we are when we live unrepressed, when we aren’t ruled by fear. Love is the truth of humanity, not sin. Love is who we are, and as for God, God is the essence of love.

American Literature Week 17 Cooper

Prompt: “How fair was Twain’s critique of Cooper’s literary style?”

James Fenimore Cooper was an American writer in the early 19th century. His most famous works include The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer. Cooper had an extreme fondness of nature, and he describes it throughout much of his work. He was a romantic, and instead of sticking to a grounded plot his stories often followed a character as they simply meandered through the woods.

Mark Twain, most famous for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, absolutely tore into Coopers work to the extent that many couldn’t read it the same afterwards. Twain was a skeptic, and Coopers romantic flowery descriptions weren’t nearly enough for Twain to overlook the holes in Coopers plots.

An example of this is a scene where a large boat is moving slowly down the river. Natives are hiding in the trees and attempt to jump upon the boat, but all of them fail. The boat isn’t moving fast, they just simply miss. Another example is when Deerslayer is able to shoot a fly from far away. Twain points out that he must truly have a hawks eye.

It’s details like this that Twain wrote his scathing review about, little plot holes that really rubbed him wrong. He described the language of Deerslayer as poetic eloquence combined with strange country bumpkin vernacular, and says that it kills the story.

In Deerslayer the main characters are rather humorless, and they are meandering without any real motivation or intent. But I didn’t personally mind it, the descriptive language used by Cooper paints a vivid picture that the two leads move through. I think there should be a place for this kind of meditative literature. Twain wholeheartedly disagrees, but I believe that not every story needs to be a daring adventure or have a grand lesson. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes just a walk in the woods with ones thoughts is enough. Whether they be serious or flowery, poetic or unbelievable.

The Deerslayer gives us just that, the legend of a man whos life is walking through the woods with his thoughts. Some parts seem to be more myth than history, but the book never claims to be nonfiction. The nature is painted brilliantly with words that make it rise up from nothingness like the mountains that rose from the sea. Sometimes its good not to hurry through, but instead take some time to enjoy the scenery and simply meander.

American Literature Week 16 Irving

Prompt: “Were the detailed descriptions of the people around the two main characters equally important in the two stories?”

Washington Irving had a brilliant way with world building. He was able to create one of a kind atmospheres, where magic seemed hidden in the foliage and superstition permeated the environment like a constant shroud. The characters in his stories lived within this atmosphere, and in their own ways added to the subtle yet haunting worlds Irving built.

In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the lead is a highly superstitious, rather proper but also somewhat odd schoolkeeper. Ichabod Crane’s description is given in length, and his physical oddities combined with his proclivity to be spooked by supernatural events makes him very memorable. He is the perfect victim to eventually run into the headless horseman. The other characters in the story are simple yet charming, and they set the stage for Ichabod to eventually run into the hollows topless terror. There is Katrina Van Tassel, beautiful heiress to Baltus Van Tassel’s fortune. Ichabod pursues her, both for her beauty and her wealth. Brom Bones is the third main lead, a rival to Ichabod who also looks to court Katrina.

Ichabod attends one of Baltus’s parties hoping to woo Katrina, during which Brom fills his head with stories of the headless horseman. This leads to the infamous trip home, where the tension slowly builds as Ichabod imagines ghouls all around him. The tension climaxes when he actually does run into the headless horseman, who chases him through the woods and across a covered bridge. With nothing but his hat left to be found by morning, its left to the readers to decide for themselves what happened to the old schoolmaster.

In Rip Van Winkle the characters are also simple and charming, setting a similar tone. There is Rip Van Winkle himself, a playful and somewhat lethargic man who doesn’t much like work but gets along well with the children and dogs of the village. He’s kind of a bard type. His wife is critical and henpecking, nagging him on his work yet to be done and eventually driving him out of the house and up to the mountains. There are other townsfolk in the story, but most of the characters are there to set up the energy of the town. There’s Nicholas Vedder for example, the owner of the inn. He doesn’t talk much, but enjoys sitting and smoking his pipe.

After his wifes critiques push him from the house Rip makes his way into the mountains for a relaxing afternoon. Once again the atmosphere of the woods surrounding the town is heavy with the supernatural. While hiking Rip meets some Fae, who he helps and spends the night dancing with. When he awakes twenty years have past. He returns to his village to find most folks have passed away and the tone of the town has shifted. Its much busier now, and people are more quick to argument. Van Winkle is left as one of the only ones who remembers how the town once was, and as the only one who knows what happened to him the night he went away.

Washington Irvings characters are simple, but along with the setting they help create the atmosphere of his stories. This atmosphere is one of warm village life. But at the boundaries supernatural elements hang heavy in the air, waiting for their chance to meet one of our characters and potentially change their lives.

American Literature Week 15 Weems Washington

Prompt: “How believable is this book?”

Parson Weems was the author of Washingtons first biography, and a heavy component in many of the myths that have been told about Washington through the centuries. The most famous of these is the legend of the cherry tree, in which a young George Washington accidentally damages his fathers cherry tree with a hatchet; when confronted Washington proclaims that he cannot tell a lie and that it was him who cut the tree. His father is overcome with joy, realizing his sons honesty is more important than a tree.

Many of the stories in Weems book are similar to this, and the book itself being labeled a biography creates the assumption that the stories are true. The assumption is made that Washington was nearly ethereal, an ethical wonder from a young age. But its taken to the extent that Washington seems almost inhuman, angelic and honorable in every deed. This is where the book loses its believability for me, when it becomes unrelatable it becomes less and less likely to be historically accurate.

Washington was a great and noble man, but he was still just that: a man. People have flaws, people make mistakes. This is something that separates us from angels, but its also something that gives strength, determination, and eventual extraordinary results to humanity. As individuals we get to grow. We get to experience, and learn, and grow stronger than our flaws. That is where the true ethereal wonderment is, in our individual capacity to better ourselves through time, love and determination. I believe if Washington was better shaded in the book (with his flaws and motives and personal journey made more accurate) well we wouldn’t look at him as a deity. But we would get to see a more believable, relatable, and ultimately more inspiring look into the founding fathers life.

American Literature Week 14 Unconditional Love

Prompt:  “If you wanted to make money by writing a self-improvement book for Americans, what topic would you choose??”

If I were to write a self improvement book I would choose the topic of unconditional love. Unconditional love and understanding for all living beings, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or anything else we label as other. The fear of the “other” has clouded the minds of cultures across the world for centuries, and it’s done nothing but isolate, shame and destroy. I believe we are moving into a time not of fear, but of love. If I were to write a book I’d want it to be about that.

My personal experience, and what I feel comfortable discussing is being Queer. Queer is a broad spectrum that includes many different gender identities and sexualities. For far too long LGBTQ people have been demonized and oppressed, for no reason other than us not fitting into the box of what we “should” be. A man loving another man was labeled an abomination. Genders were put into boxes so strict there was no room for personal interpretation or exploration. Anyone who strayed from these rules of cisgender heteronormativity was ostracized, arrested, and even killed. These were primarily heavily religious societies doing this oppression, ironically doing the opposite of what Christ preached: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician and scientist during the early 20th century. Often considered the father of modern computer science, he created the first modern computers and the Turing Test which would form the basis for AI. He was also responsible for cracking the enigma machine. This was a machine used by Nazi Germany in WW2 to transmit coded messages. Turing personally cracked the Enigma used by U-boats preying on North America Merchant convoys. By 1943 he had created machines that were cracking as many as 84,000 codes a month, two messages every minute! His efforts were crucial in helping the Allies gain the upper hand against the Axis. I bring him up because I never learned about him in school, and this is because many of his accomplishments have been more or less swept under the rug.

This is because he was gay. He was arrested for homosexuality in 1952 and put on estrogen which he opted for over prison. Estrogen does not stop homosexuality, but it does make people grow breasts and overall feminize. So in practice estrogen used as a punishment simply made gay men incredibly uncomfortable in their own bodies. His accomplishments were swept under the rug, because a gay man couldn’t be seen as a war hero. This is just one example of queer people being needlessly punished and demonized, even when we do amazing things.

Not every culture punished queer people, some worked to understand us. Native American culture is a wonderful example of such. In the Wabanaki creation story the hero Gluskabe fired an arrow into a brown ash tree, splitting it in half. When the tree got split in half, so did its spirit. He asked this one spirit that was now two if they wanted to become people, and they agreed. Gluskabe breathed upon the tree, and from each side stepped the first Wabanaki woman and the first Wabanaki man. After that there was a little bit of each essence left over, so Gluskabe recombined them and the first two spirit person stepped out of the tree. In this tradition people like me who are gender non conforming haven’t spiritually separated from themselves.

Two spirited people are the ones who learn all of the gender norms and walk all the paths, we’re then the ones who become the teachers. While the hunters are hunting and the gatherers are gathering, the two spirit people are the ones teaching the youths how to do all of it. I think this a beautiful way to view gender non conforming people, and gives much more room and possibility for a individuals growth into themselves.

But sadly fear of the other often comes in many ways. When Europeans colonizers came over and saw these traditions Natives were labeled “sexually ambiguous” and demonized. This built up political fear of the other that we still see today, in systemic racism, sexism and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Power is often held through control. Controlling the narrative of what men and women are, who we’re allowed to love and what our lives “should” look like has historically helped groups hold power. Be it patriarchy, church, or government, dividing people with different labels makes it harder for us to realize our true unity as people.

Today most people don’t know any transgender people in their lives. This makes it so their only experience with trans people comes from outlets like news, which more often than not talks ABOUT queer people instead of WITH queer people. I’ve seen many news stories where a cisgender person (a person who identifies with the sex they were born into) is criticizing transgender people without even talking to us. This leads assumptions and falsehoods to dominate the narrative. An example of this is the bathroom issue. Trans people have been once again demonized, accused of being dangerous or sexually demented. The lie is well known that if we let trans people into bathrooms they’ll assault people. Ironically the opposite is true, trans people are MUCH more likely to be assaulted themselves!

I personally feel very uncomfortable using public bathrooms because its dangerous for me to use them. Sexual assault happens very often to trans people. It’s as if people feel entitled to us, as if because we’re different than them they have the right to ask us sexually degrading questions, touch us without our permission and even attack us. Just trying to pee can be a horror show, just because people haven’t taken the time to understand us.

Transgender people, especially those of color, are one of the most vulnerable minorities for things like rape, assault and murder. So why is it we are the ones being accused of doing these monstrosities, when in reality these acts of violence have continuously been happening to us? It’s because of the fear of the other. The fear of someone different. The fear that has been systematically worked into our culture for hundreds of years.

The cure for this fear, in fact the cure for most fear, is love. Unconditional love, and the willingness to understand and get to know us as individuals instead of as news stories. Queer culture aims to embrace love, for yourself and for others. It aims for people to feel comfortable within their own bodies, whatever they may look like. It aims for consenting adults of any identity to not only be able to love each other, but for that love to be celebrated. It aims for justice for the innocent. It aims for self expression to be allowed to grow and bloom. It aims for a world where people are safe to exist as they are, not to be trapped in a stifling box of what has been the norm. It aims for unconditional love. Unconditional love is the cure for fear.

American Literature Week 13 Loyalist Perspective

Prompt: “Write a critique of Paine’s pamphlets from the point of view of a loyalist in 1778.”

It has come to my attention that we have a disastrous storm brewing on the shores of our colonies. Talk of revolution has been infecting the ears of our British colonies as the plague once affected those back home. Similarly these treasonous notions are already bringing chaos and bloodshed wherever they go. Thomas Paine (author of the hypocritically titled pamphlet Common Sense) has been slandering His Majesties good name and demanding independence. This is as if an arm were to demand independence from its body, ripping itself away like some sort of demented experiment. Well as we all know that arm can grasp at straws, but we British have the legs and we’ll quickly catch up with it.

Hypocrisy knows no bounds it seems, as while these ingrates preach freedom they have been burning down the homes of those loyal to our homeland. They have been tarring, feathering, even hanging those with enough “common sense” to remember who we are. We’re British, and His Majesty has been and always will be our holy sovereign. No ragtag group of extremists will get away with questioning this divine truth, and if they think they will they’re going to answer to our bayonets. Surely they wont be foolish enough to seriously trifle with us.

Economics Week 35 Art and Computers

Prompt: “My Career Plan to Avoid Being Replaced by a Computer.”

My career will probably be a number of things: animation, writing, theater, art, song writing and agriculture to name a few. A beautiful thing about art and storytelling is the human perspective that wields it. Living through a human life, with all the bumps, bruises and beauties that go along with it create unique perspectives and ideas. Emotions and experience fuel the fire of art, and although art is subjective the soul that goes into it is as individual as our fingerprints. Computers can calculate visually pleasing designs, they can even match together melodies and make beautiful pieces of music. Lets even consider future AI, hypothetically programmed to understand human emotion. But the AI, unless it mimics a human life from birth to death, doesn’t and cannot understand how it feels to live.

A computer has never watched the sun setting into the sea, sparkling pieces of light dancing on the waves as a scarlet glow engulfs the horizon. Salty air caressing ones cheek, seagulls singing and sand filtering up between toes. A computer has never experienced the feeling of rain falling onto ones face, thunder startling you from a daze of warm memories. Its dark, blue, and wet outside, but gold spills out from an open window and invites you into your home. A computer has never watched their child take their first steps, and felt a beautiful bittersweet swell of joy and pride as they realize their baby is starting to grow up. A computer has never known pain, a computer has never known love. A computer has never had to live with the reality of death, knowing that their life is finite and learning to be okay with that. A computer has never dreamed.

In my mind those examples, and many many more moments of sensation, emotion, and adoration for existence are what separate us from computers. Our brains are technically very similar to computers, but instead of being sculpted by man they’ve been sculpted by nature. By evolution. By humans living and dying for thousands of years, and experiencing everything that comes with life over and over again. Even in one lifetime we live and die countless times over, only in a less physical way. The child I was ten years ago has passed on, passed on into the adult I am today. The adult I am now will also pass on, in ten years this current moment will be nothing but a memory. Even day to day, I am not the same person I was yesterday. For sleep is the death of the day, and awakening is the rebirth of tomorrow. But a computer has never died, for when we turn a computer off and turn it back on its the same as it was. Unless its reprogrammed, it never grows. A computer never has to figure out their own identity, because a human already programmed the computer with everything it is. A computer never has to think about who they are.

Art is the expression of who we are, what we are feeling, a moment of life encapsulated in a painting or song. Storytelling is the ancient art of creating a moment of life in words, painting a journey we can only see within our minds. Unless its animated, then we can see it with our eyes. But the thoughts and emotions animation can give us linger long after the silver screen goes blank. Even in a future where AI understands emotions, its only because it mimics humans. Its a shadow of humanity, a cartoon painted by a person. If these shadows are programmed with the beautiful, existential understanding of what it is to live and have the desire to express themselves through art that could be something wonderfully unique. But it wont cancel out the expression of humans. Art is not a competition.

Economics is a competition though, and art is sold. But even so, the journey we take as humans equips us with not only unique perspectives, but empathy and understanding of other human perspectives. I’d be fascinated to hear a computers storytelling, but I’d be able to relate to a humans storytelling. I’d be able to feel the emotion of a persons journey on a much more personal level. I believe the commercial value of art will mirror this. But I also believe in art for arts sake. Trying to make art while sitting in the box of “how much will this sell for” is very limiting and can cancel out a creative process all together.

In conclusion humans are extremely emotionally developed when compared to computers, and have immense nuance and individuality when compared to machines. This allows our art and storytelling to be as unique and personal as our imaginations. We can also relate to each others emotions and journeys, we want to feel and understand each other. So because humans are the main consumers of art I believe humans will continue being the main creators of art. Until computers are filling the theaters longing to cry while watching Titanic, feeling proud of a fictional boy as they watch Finn mature over the course of Adventure Time, or feeling a rush of confidence and self respect as they jam out to Lizzo, art will continue primarily being made by humans, for humans.

Economics Week 34 Protectionism

Prompt: “Is it logical for someone to affirm faith in the free market and also protectionism?”

Protectionism is the policy of restricting imports from other countries though tariffs, taxes, and other government regulations. Free trade is as it sounds, trade without restrictions. Just stating what these two economic policies are shows how different they are, and how one cannot truly exist at the same time as the other. Protectionism is usually put in place to protect domestic business’s from the competition created by foreign production. Domestic producers make more money through scarcity, but at the end of the day consumers suffer. As I stated in some of my previous essays trade with other countries makes both countries wealthier, and reduces scarcity which makes goods less expensive. Consumers are able to afford more than they would have been able to if their only choices were domestic producers.

In conclusion it is illogical for someone to advocate for both free trade and protectionism, because the two policies go directly against each other. Faith in the free market means faith in no governmental trade restrictions, while faith in protectionism means faith in restrictions.