Archive for the ‘ Non-Fiction ’ Category

Video Games for Social Justice

Oftentimes, the reader that could benefit from reading a work of literature that is intended to develop empathy for a particular plight is not likely to pick up a book that clearly advertises itself as being about that hardship. Many authors have tackled this obstacle in the past by writing speculative fiction rather than a straight narrative. The time-travel aspect of Octavia Butler’s Kindred might draw in the temporal enthusiast, but her message is still overtly about the struggles of African-Americans. Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is a fantastic ghost story that is still straight-forward about the poverty and incarceration related suffering of African-Americans over several generations. However modern authors approach this minor subterfuge of “tricking” a reader into ingesting their message of social justice, there will still be a group of people that have no desire to pick up a book. This is where new forms of media, not just modern writing, come into play. Television and film in recent years, especially those based upon novels that have a message of social justice, reach more of an audience than just fans of the book. Video games, especially those developed by independent studios, are in a unique position to deliver the audience a perspective they would not normally have sought on their own through the allure of gameplay. One such game I will focus on is This War of Mine, published in 2014 by 11 Bit Studios. The game uses a popular game style from the time—Survival—to deliver a specific message about the lives of non-combatants in a military conflict. The tagline of the game (“In War… Not Everyone Is a Soldier”) provides the player some foreshadowing that the game is atypical.

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A Room of One’s Own

The below text was written for a class on British Literature, focusing on Virgina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been living the reality that Woolf describes regarding women and fiction – obligations from being a woman, a mom, an aunt, etc, have to be juggled with my schoolwork, my job, my social life, any an personal or free time. It’s overwhelming. And then, I have to decide, what do I prioritize? If women lack the education to write poetry, as Woolf says, should I then prioritize education? But what do I take from? Do I stop performing the  “duties” of my gender? (This is actually what I did—I consider myself non-binary in the first place, the “performance” of femininity never sat well with me, neither did masculinity. Supportive spouses are great.) Does my education suffer because of other things required of me? (If you look at my post history, you’d probably see that I don’t often get time to post, or even to think of what to post beforehand. Full time jobs are pretty much necessary for middle class parents of any gender.) Do I stop working, or take time off, in order to make time for other things? But then how would I get my “£500 a year” to afford life?  The mental labor necessary for finding time, the freedom to be able to write, and to write something that requires as intensive scrutiny as poetry, is still not afforded to women (or even men) at the present time. Prose and poetry are still something afforded to people who have an abundance of personal time, or to people who are willing to sacrifice necessities to make time.

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ENG 363 – “The Argonauts”

I’m stuck on one line Maggie Nelson wrote on page 37.

I cannot hold my baby at the same time as I write.”

This is something that I feared when I became pregnant, when I decided I wanted to have children. I wanted more than one before I had one; but having one has made me realize that, mentally, I cannot handle more than one. And I think it is because of this sentiment I share with Nelson.

I cannot be a proper mother while being myself.

Nelson references her quote of D. W. Winnicott that echoes how I felt with “I had nearly four decades to become myself before experimenting with my obliteration.”

I don’t think I had that. I think I was still striving to find who I was before I had my child, while I was pregnant, and even after he was born.

Women struggle with identity in ways that men will not understand. We have feminists telling us to be ourselves, to make our own decisions, to do what we will, to find our own truth of life. We have the patriarchy telling us to be good and start a family while we can, before complications arise from age, before whatever. Before we’re whole. Be a mother before you’re human.

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ENG 350 – “I’m With The Bears”

While I plan to finish the entirety of I’m With the Bears shortly, I am still on a deadline because this is for a class.

I spent yesterday at a relative’s house for a family reunion, in the 94°F (34.4C) heat (“feels like: 100°F” (37.7C) says the Weather Channel) when outside, in something significantly cooler but still warm indoors. Air conditioners that once made the interiors of houses comfortable can only manage “better than outside” in the summers now. Living in a house without central air has gotten me used to sitting in a room that runs around 80°F (26.6C) as the tiny, single-room AC unit in the window struggles to counter the increasing summer temps.

It was James’s side of the family, so the reminiscing was not for me. I hung around with those that married in and we discussed things. The conversation was usually about jobs, status of vehicles, the temperature outside. We talked about how hot it is, how it used to not be that hot, but there was no discussion deeper than that. This wasn’t the time or place for it. It was too hot.

My job as an energy engineer/analyst/manager for retail corporations fits snugly into this changing climate. My goal is to save them money by running the AC efficiently. Making stores comfortable so people buy things. On the surface we can tell people that we’re trying to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s all about money.

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An Essay for an Art History Class

William M. Harnett, Memento Mori—"To This Favour"

Memento Mori, “To This Favour,” 1879

Oil on canvas

William Michael Harnett
(American, born Ireland, 1848-1892)

The Latin Term memento mori describes a traditional subject in art that addresses mortality. In Harnett’s example, the extinguished candle, spent hourglass, and skull symbolize death. A quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, inscribed on the inside cover of a tattered book, reinforces the theme. It comes from the play’s famed graveyard scene, where Hamlet discovers a skull and grimly ponders his beloved Ophelia, ironically unaware that she is already dead. The “paint” in the quote not only refers to Ophelia’s make-up, but also wittily evokes the artifice of Harnett’s picture.

Mr. and Mrs. William H Marlatt Fund 1965.235

(The Cleveland Museum of Art)

While most still life paintings offer no narrative in their imagery, this does not mean there is no meaning to the piece. The meaning of this work by William Michael Harnett is offered directly in the title: Memento Mori, “To This Favour”. Even viewers not familiar with the Latin phrase memento mori can suss its meaning when viewing Harnett’s painting. An empty hourglass, a burned candled, and a skull are all icons of passing on, giving rise to feelings of one’s own mortality. As the phrase translated states, “Remember, you must die,” and so the viewer does. However, the meaning of this memento mori goes beyond that simple phrase.

“To This Favour” is a predominately dark piece, both visually and thematically, drawing the viewers attention to specific iconography with the touches of whiteness. The largest body of light color is the pages of the open books on the left. Harnett is known for his style of trompe l’oeil; in this instance he tricking the viewer’s eye into thinking one of the open books is motion. The upper of the two open books has three pages splayed in a position that would be impossible to capture in a still life painting if it were actually in motion. Each of these three pages curves in the exact manner one would expect it to do if it were falling under its own weight after being turned and left to fall to the opposite side of the book. Such is the trick, the tromp l’oeil, that the eye thinks the image so real that the page would fall at any moment. The book itself shows no meaning of death. The viewer cannot see the title nor read the text within it. Rather than be a symbol of the permanency of dying, the book, being half-open and in motion, may be a symbol of life: a life life half-over and passing quickly to the end.

The lower book is open as well, though its cover is torn from the binding. The aged, damaged book cover hangs over the edge of the table by a thread as if it, soon shall die. The inside cover is the closest object in the painting to the viewer, demanding one’s attention to the quote it bears. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet on the subject of death, the inscription reads: “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come.” In the play, the paint is Ophelia’s make-up; in this piece, the paint is the oils used by Harnett. Both paints are applied with thoughts death, which may have prompted the artist to use this particular quote. As one may know, Ophelia is already dead at the time the line is spoken by Hamlet, further compounding on the theme of death in the painting.

The next largest collection of whiteness is the skull, quintessentially the most recognizable symbol of death. The skull, like the book, is aged and damaged. It lacks several teeth and is a dirty, off-white color. Unlike the book, the skull faces to the side. The skull looks to the right of the viewer, whereas the book’s cover opens to the viewer directly. This positioning by Harnett aids in drawing the eye to the quoted text for which the painting is titled. The skull rests atop yet another book, this one much thicker and less damaged than the first two. The spine shows it to be a collection of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, which, like the thoughts this painting is meant to provoke, is full of death, loss, and mourning.

Another obvious symbol of passing used by Harnett is the extinguished candle. Light entering the scene from the left side of the painting creates a reflection on the candlestick. A broken line of white draws the viewer beyond the darkness of the whole piece to the candle. On the table, it sits behind the skull-topped book. Behind the candlestick and skull is naught but a darkened archway; a light-less passage through which the used-up candle cannot guide the viewer. Even the off-painting light source cannot guide the viewer’s eyes to what lies within that hall. It creates a sense of anxiety and anticipation at the thought of the great beyond. One cannot see what is through the passage, just as one cannot know what is seen after death.

Behind the open books sits an empty hourglass, presumably the sand has run out to the bottom though it is not seen in the painting. It is yet another iconic reminder of one’s own mortality and the passage of time. It is tilted in a slightly unsettling way and is perhaps propped up by one of the other books behind the open pair. Like the open book before it, the hourglass appears to be at the cusp of motion. It appears ready to fall, or even already falling, in its tipped position. The only portion of the glass seen is that which reflects the light from the left. The lighting effect may be Harnett’s real reason for presenting the hourglass at an angle. The glass is so clean that the viewer can see to the stone wall beyond and, had the hourglass not been positioned as it is, the reflected light may have been too much or too little. Too little, and the hourglass would go unnoticed. Too much and it would detract from the whiteness of the book cover and detract from the intended focus.

The books surrounding the hourglass have no visible titles, though they appear to be at different stages of aging. One book, positioned at an angle on the left side of the Shakespeare tome, has a few pages that seem to be shifted and poking out of the rest. This can be read as a well-used book that is possibly near “death,” though not as near as the book with quote upon it is. A book lays flat to the left of the hourglass and the open books. It appears to be smooth and not at all damaged, though perhaps a bit dusty. The sixth and final book is perhaps in the same stage of life: its pages are neat and straight, but are yellowed from age.

The table upon which this memento mori still life is placed is a drab, olive-brown. It does not shine like the silk painted by other artists using oils, but it is as smooth. It seems to be very plain, which could be indicative of it being over-used and near its end along with the books and candle. The lack of luster in the cloth, as well as the rest of the objects, shows death to be very mundane and common. This fits with the sense of tragedy in Hamlet as no death in the play is glorious, no one died a martyr, and celebrated at another’s death.

Still life paintings are oft devoid of deep meaning. However, William M. Harnett’s Memento Mori, “To This Favor” bears a rich subtext of the commonality of aging and loss in addition to it’s obvious subject of death. Each object is positioned to relate to the other as aging, death, and anxiety all relate to each other. Harnett’s work reminds one of one’s own mortality as intended, but also reminds us that those we love will pass, too.

Worst. Essay. Ever.

Las Meninas, Diego Velasquez, 1656

Las Meninas, Diego Velasquez, 1656

Before reading this I feel it is important to understand the context under which it was written. This is an Art History class for non-art majors, focusing on the renaissance through cubism. This is for exam two. The class is two hours long, and the first portion of the test is fill-in-the-blank coupled with viewing of projected slides of various paintings the class had learned about. The essay portion allows the student to choose one of three topics and use whatever time is left of the two hours to write the essay. The test started at 6:15 PM and I left the classroom at 6:48 PM. I’m not certain how much of that time I was actually writing the essay, as I was writing between slides as well.

The prompt I chose for the essay was: “Valesquez’s Las Meninas 1656. Describe the form and content of the painting. What are the two subject matter. Describe the way the artist includes the viewer and how he leaves the meaning uncertain.”

And so, here is what I refereed to as my “worst essay ever” (though I suppose if I wrote “dog poop” a few times and turned that in, it’d be worse):

Las Meninas is a portrait of the princess of Spain, while implying to the viewer that they are the subject. As the handmaidens attend to the princess, she, the attending dwarves, and the artist acknowledge the viewer’s position is occupied. The mirror in the background shows that the king and queen are looking on, possibly the subjects of the painting-within-the-painting. Velasquez effectively places the viewer in the king and queen’s shoes. It is only momentarily, however, as a courtier in the back of the studio opens a door to prepare the way for the royal visitors.

All the above is subject to speculation, however, as the man in the back can be coming or going. As well, it is not clearly indicated if the royal pair are visiting or sitting for a portrait. The king’s dog also in the painting, but what he’s doing there (other than being prodded by a dwarf’s foot) is not certain. I personally read this painting as the king and queen having their portrait done and the princess is waiting (possibly impatiently as implied by the maidens fussing over her) for her turn to be included in the portrait.

There are two light sources in the painting. From the right, natural light enters and brightens the princess showing she is the true focus of the painting. Rather than being a simple group portrait, Velasquez included implied movement, making the painting a snapshot in time. The second light source is in the back, where a man looks on, interrupting the scene just as the light interrupts the dark background.

Foreign Transaction Fees for USD to USD

I, like many others out there, avidly review my credit card statements. I view the card’s activity online before statements to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized purchases on there. I don’t think I’ve actually found any in the eight years I’ve had this card. When statements come around, I like to know exactly what finance charges are applied. This month, for the first time, I saw “FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE*FINANCE.” Having never made a foreign transaction on this card, I immediately questioned it through their secure messaging system.

Subject: FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE*FINANCE
Date/Time: 05/13/09 07:22:15 PM
You wrote:
I would like more detail on the following as I do not recall making any foreign purchases:
05/12/2009 FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE*FINANCE CHARGE $1.92 Transaction Type: 3 Post Date: 05/12/2009 Reference Number: 00000000 Charge To: Standard Purch

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