Archive for May, 2018

ENG 350 – Week 2 – Remainder of California

In my previous post regarding Edan Lepucki’s California I mentioned the symbolic “newness” of the turkey baster and the meaning Frida attaches to her other artifacts.  There are several times where objects—possessions—are triggers for memories or behaviors for Frida and Cal. These same objects, when handled by others, affect the characters. The Bee that Frida finds in Micah’s house meant so much to them as children and brings back pleasant memories for her, but to Micah it is just a tool. Micah understands what artifacts mean to Frida, though, and has August bring back her collection from the Miller Estate. But again, to Micah, they are just a tool to control Frida’s reactions. It’s entirely possible he left the Bee out for her to see. Micah uses Cal in the same way, but targets his ego rather than objects. He know Cal will be chuffed to part of the inner circle; to be let into a room that not even other members of the inner circle get to be in. He gives Cal/Gray an assignment on the inside to keep him in line; to make him feel special. He gives Frida/Julie all the objects of a “normal” life she could ask for.

I don’t particularly like that Lepucki echoed the stereotypes of men and women in the Land, especially after deriding such separations in earlier chapters. Frida willfully enters into “women’s work”; baking, cooking, gossiping. Cal continues with manual labor, security, and intellectualism. What does Lepucki mean to say about the end of the world, or the nature of humanity, by having her starring roles be held by such stereotypes? Even with Sandy, a pioneer through and through, she cared for the kids and did laundry and even pressured Frida to have a child. Bo did the hunting. The labor. “It’s about upper body strength” was used more than once in the novel to explain why Men do certain jobs.

While neither Frida nor Cal’s skills are presented as lesser than the other, the Land still has a clear distinction of how women work/behave/think and how men work/behave/think. Cal collected information from discussions. Frida, from gossip. Cal proved his worth by working. Frida, from bribery (with baked goods). While it could be said that these character choices are just these characters and how they would behave, that doesn’t explain the remainder of the population going along with the same ideals. The Men were in charge. The Men did security outside, the Women inside. The Women used sex to persuade Men. There were jobs that were co-ed, such as the construction, but the one woman in it was considered a shrew for wanting things measured. The men in cooking were considered inept.

ENG 363 – “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay (first half of book)

My fear with any feminism class I take and any feminist book I read is that I’ll be beaten with the two-by-four of feminist rhetoric telling me how awful I am for not embracing the gold-star feminism of hairy-pits and man-bashing. It seems Roxane Gay has this same fear. While she starts the book with essays about herself, she goes on to discuss how pop-culture has skewed her view of feminism and how it could (and does) skew others’ views as well.

I am particularly taken with the essay “Garish, Glorious Spectacles.” I’ve long considered gender (masculinity/femininity) to be purely a performance. It’s an act one puts on to get responses. I’ve never been attached to either femininity or masculinity, having spent much of my younger years being told I was a “tomboy” for liking the things I liked and never really having much interest in the script for “girl”. My lovely housemate found that she also didn’t have much interest in the script for “boy” growing up, and now is finding that the script for “girl” doesn’t quite fit either (but moreso than “boy”). She revels in her ambiguity now, and as I told her I love seeing her happy, “You make others as confused about your gender as you are!” Gay’s readings of “Green Girl” et al affirm/confirm our right to be confused about ourselves by showing how the media portrays the “act” of woman. We know what we are, yet here is a popular TV show showing us what we say we are is not the definition they want to portray. The stereotypes of women are entertaining—an actual woman is human, normal.

Gay’s “Not Here To Make Friends” elaborates more on the stereotypes of women in media negatively affecting women in general. A woman who is portrayed as independent and bold is unlikable, but the same for a man is the ideal. Such it is in life – a woman in leader ship is bossy while a man is just the boss. The essay goes on to to say that it’s foolish to thing of a character needing to be likable to be a good character, man or woman, but a man often gets a bye as the “anti-hero”. A woman is just a bitch.

ENG 350 Week 1 – California Chapters 1-7

The opening of California (by Edan Lepucki) has been refreshing. Growing up with media such as Captain Planet and Ferngully, I’ve been inoculated against the over-the-top personal pleas for the average person doing what they can to fix whatever is wrong with the environment that week. If you, average American child, do not recycle that can, you are leading us to the environmental apocalypse! California acknowledges that the problem isn’t the average American—it’s the rich capitalist, the corporation—that’s causing the problems. It is, however, the average American that suffers.

Frida fawns over her artifacts, including the like-new turkey baster, as reminders of what life was before it began to end. Though as the story progresses, we learn that the end was already there. The irreversible causes had already had their effect, and it was just a matter of time before everyone felt them. Resources became more and more scarce, and only the rich could afford them. Frida’s artifacts seem less like symbols of what her life was, but more like what life should have been had humanity cared enough to not destroy itself. It’s more of a hope that they could return to the ideal, should they come across some wonderful fix or some way to get into the Communities.

Naming their plot of land the Afterlife is a bit like holding on to her collection of objects. While the move there was Frida and Cal’s abandonment of the world, they still call it something based on their interpretation of the world. But the name also shows their acceptance that they really can’t salvage the world in any way. To not call it “Eden” is an admission that the move was not for a new beginning; it was for a new ending. Rather than be just another body in an alley outside a hospital, unable to afford care, they chose to be away from everything and care only for themselves. They threw themselves to the wild knowing full well they could not tame anything.

Lepuki’s descriptions of the wilds reclaiming urban centers and man-made objects makes something extremely clear about global warming and its effects on humanity: the world will continue even if we cannot live in it. Super-storms and other “acts of God” are already present and destroying civilization’s mark upon the world; they’re no different in California. Cal’s parents in Cleveland succumbed to harsh blizzards and the west coast is devastated by other natural events. Being able to ignore it is a privilege for the wealthy, but they are only ignoring what will eventually happen to them.

Reading the beginning of this book I was reminded often of the Fallout series; an eternally wasteful USA drains the world of its resources and goodwill, and succumbs to the events they cannot control. Though it is nuclear war in Fallout, the anarchic, community-based societies that follow the destruction are similar. The isolationists, the raiders/pirates, the feral communities are present in both the Fallout games and California.

Frida and Cal’s devotion to each other is not total—while they are clearly not physically unfaithful, they each, for their own reasons, choose to keep their emotions and thoughts from each other. It is strange that they would do so considering a fear of what the other might think (such as with Frida’s drug use) is a product of a society in which they no longer participate. Even marriage is a relic of this society, just as Frida’s artifacts are.

There is so much that can be said even in these first few chapters about Lepucki’s take on what would happen during the social apocalypse, especially since I haven’t even mention Micah yet. Micah (and his supposed death) is a huge catalyst for both Frida and Cal in the story; his return in chapter 8 intrigues me.

English Classes – Summer 2018

I’m enrolled in two English classes this summer that require blog posts for interaction. I’ll be putting them here on SDO with tags for each class—ENG350 for Dystopian Lit and ENG363 for New Feminist Memoir. Use the links here or below the post to find all writings as they are posted for each class.