Friday, June 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby, Round 2

Sometimes the meaning of things go over children's heads.  Such was the case for me when I read The Sun Also Rises in the seventh grade.  I remember wondering why Lady Brett Ashley wouldn't commit to the love of her life, Jake Barnes.  She cried about it, even.

It wasn't until I had to read the book again in college that I realized what exactly was going on.  Jake had been a soldier in the first World War and because of an injury, he was impotent.  Ohhhh . . .  But there was more to it than that.  Impotence is often used literature to symbolize helplessness and hopelessness.  After the Great War, a lot of people felt helpless and hopeless, including Ernest Hemingway.

Because such a bright light went off for The Sun Also Rises that second time around, I thought maybe -- just maybe -- it would be the same for The Great Gatsby.  The first time I read it was nearly 15 years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school.  It was one of two summer reading books, and I absolutely hated it.  Mind you, I got the best grade on the exam, but as far as I was concerned, the book had zero merit.  In Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey plays Andy Kaufman, a comedian who reads The Great Gatsby as punishment to an audience that doesn't laugh at his jokes.  I thought it was brilliant.  The Great Gatsby as punishment?  Someone understood my hatred!

But hate is a strong feeling to harbor for 15 years, and so I did what I thought I had to do to rid myself of the toxic emotion: I read The Great Gatsby for a second time.  I picked as good a time as any, I suppose -- Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation had just been released, so it seemed like everywhere I went, someone was talking about it.

Well.  Here's what I thought of the book after the second reading:
  • The writing is wonderful.  Thankfully, my adult self recognizes good writing in a way that my teenager self did not.  It kind of amazes me, though, that I didn't catch on to the remarkable quality of this sentence, for example: "At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses."  I mean, c'mon.  That's good stuff!
  • None of the main characters are likable, and most of the rest are awful, too.  There is one exception: Gatsby's father.  Fitzgerald devoted maybe a page to him, but he was the only character I was in any way rooting for.  Even Nick, the narrator is kind of a jerk.  He's a self-righteous son of a gun who helps two people commit adultery.  Not cool, Nick.  Not cool.
  • The story is depressing.  That's probably why I ultimately hated it when I was a sophomore.  I mean, although I can be somewhat melancholy at times, I don't like books that make me feel depressed.  And this book does it.  My teacher at the time, Mrs. Harmon, went on and on about how this book was all about the American Dream, and maybe it is, but at this point in my life, all I can think is that Fitzgerald was writing a book about a time when America seemed to be losing its sense of morality and wealth was just a synonym for indulgence, frivolity, and emptiness.  If that's not depressing, I don't know what is.
  • "Gatsby Parties" are suspect.  Why do women ever decide that throwing a Gatsby Party would be a good idea?  Do they plan on getting drunk and sleeping with married men, too?  I'm sure they're thinking of thousands of twinkle lights and music and flowing white dresses with matching hats and red lipstick -- but after reading that book again, I can't help but remember that Gatsby Parties are just meaningless wastes of time.

So there you go.  After all these years, I can say that although the writing is incredible, the story is not, and I will never read The Great Gatsby again.

Thing I'm thankful for: warm showers again

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cold Showers

There was a slight mix-up in the transition of Texas Gas accounts.  My roommate left and got married, so she terminated her account.  I called about a new one before the deadline, but the gas was turned off, anyway.

All that's to say that yes, I've been taking cold showers for the last week.  :/

The gas guy is supposed to come today, but I haven't heard a peep from him all day.  :/

This brings me to the real point of this post:  I hate cold showers.  Whoever said they were refreshing?  Even in the middle of a Texas summer, I hate them.  I never get used to that initial shock of cold water running down my back, and washing shampoo and conditioner out of my hair makes me whimper.  This is what I say to myself every day while my vital organs steal the heat away from my extremities:  "I'm on a mission in the jungle in The Philippines!"  Or "This is the first time I've experienced running water!"  Or "I've been stranded on an island for years, and I've just been rescued and taken back to America!"

It's pathetic.

When is he going to come???

Thing I'm thankful for: water

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Devil's Advocate

Apparently it was Oscar Wilde who said, "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit."  Now, I don't know the context of the quote, but I think it's true.  Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.  Similarly, I think playing the devil's advocate is the lowest form of argument.

In my experience, people play the devil's advocate for two reasons:  1) because they think their audience is ignorant of an opposing argument, or 2) because they have no conviction on the discussion at hand.  Assuming these are indeed the reasons for playing the devil's advocate, here are my thoughts on each:
  1. Why do people so often assume the worst in others?  What if we approached every discussion or debate with the assumption that most -- if not all -- people have done their homework or have put some thought into what they say?  Just because someone is arguing one position doesn't mean he or she hasn't thought of every other one.

    But let's say that in the course of a discussion, it becomes apparent that the person you're talking to has, in fact, not considered all sides of a topic.  Instead of standing behind an idea that you're not necessarily 100% -- or even 50% -- in support of in order to teach a lesson or make a point, you could simply say, "Some people think [this] about this topic.  What do you make of that?"  Or, "I've heard a few friends say [this] on the matter.  What are your thoughts?"
  2. People should say what they mean and mean what they say.  If they don't know what they mean, then they should listen.  Or ask questions.
This post probably seems like it's coming out of nowhere, but it's actually something that's been on my mind for quite some time.  Why?  I suppose it's because I know a lot of people who play the devil's advocate on a regular basis, and I'm tired of it -- not tired in a sassy, I-don't-want-to-be-your-friend-anymore kind of way, but in an exhausted, will-you-just-please-be-yourself kind of way.*

*This post isn't directed toward anyone in particular; it's meant for a general audience.

Thing I'm thankful for: Tanya, my fellow student worker

Monday, June 17, 2013

Are you ready? ROW!

I grew up thinking I was bad at sports.  My parents enrolled me in softball when I was about eight years old, but it was a little late.  I had never learned to be comfortable with a ball, and I knew I wasn't coordinated enough to be truly good, anyway.  Plus, I seriously lacked any measure of competitive spirit.  And so, whenever anyone suggested doing something that included balls flying through the air or picking teams, I would bolt.  "I'm not good at sports," I'd say, instead opting to watch from the sidelines or leave altogether.

It's taken me a long, long time to learn that I actually am good at some sports and athletic activities; I just needed to figure out what they were.  That is, I needed to figure out what my body and personality were well-suited for.

It turns out that I'm well-suited for rowing.*

A friend encouraged me to take a free one-hour rowing class with her about two years ago, which I did.  I loved it and planned on taking the full month-long course, but school and work always seemed to get in the way.  I would periodically mosey down to the lake for leisurely paddleboarding or kayaking when I had time, but always looked at the rowers longingly and thought, "I want to do that.  I could do that."

Well, two years later, I finally decided to do it.  So far I've taken four out of the eight classes, and I love it, just as I thought I would.  But I'm also good at it.  And it feels good to be good at it.  I feel strong and healthy and happy with the world when I'm rowing.  I feel like I've found a place where my long arms and narrow hips matter and where my instinct to follow matters, too.  In crew, it's crucial to move in unison with the one person who sets the stroke.  That person leads, and the rest follow.  I never wanted to be a scene-stealer or a show-stopper; most of the time, I like doing what everyone else is doing.  In crew, the goal is just that -- to move together in one elegant rhythm.

So I guess all of that's to say . . .  Sports are fun; you just have to find the right one.  I just had to find the right one.

*And rafting and paddleboarding and kayaking and anything that has to do with floating on water.  (Though I've never tried to water ski; I get a little nervous just thinking about it.)

Thing I'm thankful for: Dena, my new rowing friend

Oh, Canada! With Pictures!

It's been over two weeks since I went to Canada, and I'm just now posting the pictures!  And besides pictures, I'll tell you a few more observations I made in Canada:
  • Toronto is a lot bigger than I expected.  In fact, it usually falls around 4th or 5th on the list of most populous (populated?) cities in North America.  Wow!
  • People who live in Toronto love Toronto.  A lot.
  • People pronounce their ou's and a's kinda funny here.  Also, ai's are different, as are orr's, as in "sorry" or "tomorrow."  I like it.  Ask me to speak in Canadian for you sometime.  :)
  • People weren't kidding when they said the Canadian side of Niagara Falls is better.  It totally is.  It's too bad we didn't have time to stop for pictures . . .  Just know that if you only ever see the American side of the Falls, you're missing out!
Above all, though, the thing that impressed me most about Canada was not actually Canada itself; it was Lake Ontario.  Wow!  Even now, I can hardly believe it's a lake, and it's on the smaller side of The Great Lakes!  It looks like an ocean!  I'm talkin' waves and sand, folks.  And I-can't-see-to-the-other-side.  It's unbelievable!  Sometimes I catch myself pondering on the wonder that is The Great Lakes while I'm at work or walking around Austin or doing any number of random things.  I want to go back; I want to see all of them!

Now for the pictures!

Oh, Canada!

Thing I'm thankful for: Atlantic salmon