Posts Tagged ‘ ENG350

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.

Reading global warming related literature for the last six weeks has got me questioning a few things about myself and my career. Am I helping (by cutting electric/gas/water usage for corporations)? Am I hurting (by making these corporations have a sustainable business that ultimately harms the world)? Should I care about the bigger picture or am I just trying to get by? So many of these novels address and pity those just trying to survive. We’re just one of the masses, dependent on the corporations and the government to keep the world safe for us. We treat them all as too big to fail. And then they do.

The perfect ending to this book was Atwood’s contribution, Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet, in which all the problems of the world are simplified to their core. All nuance of the questions I ask myself are lost the death of the world. What is the point of even questioning what I’m doing if the world is to end? But of course, the point of this collection of stories, as with all dystopic literature, is to hopefully scare people away from the inevitable. “If you don’t care now, here is what will happen!” is sometimes the hamfisted message beat into us from environmentally conscious media. I still remember the shows I was inundated with as a child that desired to make the new generation aware of what was going on. We noticed, but everything else got in the way.

The small scale of the story in The Tamarisk Hunter is a great counter to The Water Knife‘s epic adventure. Everything Lolo did to keep himself where he was mattered so little – he thought he’d be caught and killed for his water related crimes, but in the end they just told him he’s not needed anymore. Those in power don’t need those not, and they can end you in ways you didn’t think possible.

Diary of an Interesting Year is a bit like Future Home of the Living God in that it’s written from a single point of view, and one that is of a normal person being affected by the collapsing, panicked government. Unlike Future Home it doesn’t bank on some dodgy sci-fi to explain why they’re running or why pregnancy is horrible. For Cedar, pregnancy becomes a duty, for the author of the Diary, it’s a terrible burden that could lead to death she’s quickly done with. Women become commodities to the strong men.

It’s 83°F (28.3C) in this room.

ENG 350 – “The Water Knife”

Last Christmas, I think it was, I bought a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife for my brother in law (it was on his wishlist) and didn’t bother to peek inside. I know now that if I would have, I would have ended up giving him a used copy.

I often wonder how I got into the business of energy management—it was completely by accident, I swear. I got into tech support for the company’s lighting and HVAC controls systems, learning much of not only the workings of the hardware and software, but also of the strategies. I’m interested and invested in all sorts of resource management as well. My career requires that I find ways for retail corporations to save money on utilities, but the way to do that is to use less. Less electricity. Less gas. Less water.

It seems like the main characters of this novel each also got into caring about water management by accident as well. A hardened criminal recruited from prison by a corporate mastermind. A “wet” (newbie) reporter trying to shout out the truth to people who don’t want to listen to it. A refugee just trying to get out of her shitty life.

Though the novel follows a fairly formulaic story telling process, the characters are still interesting and their motives are more than just a stereotype. Bacigalupi builds a world based around water scarcity that is based on real issues affecting the American southwest today (and has been for more than a century and a half, really) and takes it to a dramatic extreme with political and corporate espionage, shadow ops, and people who got in deeper than they wanted and now they’re all in danger.

Highly recommended, and would love to see a movie.

ENG363/ENG350 – “THINKING ABOUT BLOGGING”

A quote from last week’s email from the professor for this course:

THINKING ABOUT BLOGGING

As we hit the midway point of this course, it may be valuable to you to blog about blogging: what is it like to write online about your writing, in this (somewhat) public way? Have you blogged before this course? Why or why not? How does knowing you are going to blog about these books affect your reading?

 

I said in a separate conversation with the professor that I’ve been blogging since before blog was a word. That may be a slight exaggeration. I have definitely been blogging since before blogging was a profession. The word blog, short for weblog, came around in the days of online diaries. The anonymous over-sharing that came around first on people’s private web pages, then on sites such as livejournal, myspace, friendster, xanga, tumblr, wordpress, facebook, twitter, and whatever else will come in the future. I’ve watched platforms come and go. I’ve watched online friends come and go. I’ve followed the lives of people I’ve never met, and people who have never met me followed my life.

Look at the side-bar. There are posts dating back to 2000. They were backdated on this wordpress (installed 2007) but have been part of my life, my site, since the 90s. I’m ancient on the internet. I’ve been making my views known to whoever will read them for 20 years or so. It was new then. I was a nerd for doing it then. It’s just part of life now. Not just for me, but for society in general.

The only manner that knowing I have to blog for this course (and for other course(s) taught by this same professor) is that how much of non-academic me do I want to let bleed into my writing?

  • I am used to writing academic papers.
  • I am used to writing blogs.
  • I am not used to blogging academically.
  • I am used to writing gigantic blustery papers that take ages to get the point.
  • I am used to writing short, witty responses to media I’ve consumed.
  • I am not used to writing short-form responses to things I have read for an academic audience. 

This has been a fantastic writing experience for me and I absolutely enjoy it. I don’t know how many people, if any, are really reading any of this (my site stats tell me it’s not many at all—my dealings with Valve’s foreign transaction fees continues to be my most read post). I can only hope that those who come here for my writing for classes stay and read my other writing (and try not to judge to harshly what 15-25 year old me wrote).

ENG 350 – “Future Home of the Living God”

In her novel Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich grasps and explains some rather important parts of the apocalypse: Humans known not the scale, and indeed prefer to not know (even with all their clamoring to just know), the scale of the end of life as we know it. The format of the novel as the main character’s journal gives the reader the fog an individual would have—unlike many others that offer flashbacks or other points of view that provide the reader with knowledge that the characters could not possibly know. When a global scale crisis arises, the people immediately become small-minded: looking out for themselves, their families, and little else. Those with power seize control of the military, communication, production, and reproduction. Their agenda is thinly veiled with euphemisms that imply comfort and protection, but masks the abuse of women. The abusers are themselves against what they do but have no choice themselves. No one is winning in this situation, even those that pretend to be in charge. It’s the end of the world, and no one wants to notice.

The focus of the book, however, is an individual’s journey in hiding from those in power, being captured, escaping, being captured again, and ultimately [spoiler alert] not getting away or what she wants. “Finally!” I said to my husband after I finished reading this, “A dystopic novel that doesn’t have a happy ending!” In most stories, there’s some morally gray “happy” ending that gets the main character(s) what they want but with some sort of sacrifice. Here we have a main character that loses everything, and remains that way at the end, with no hope in sight. This is what a reader needs in order to truly understand what the end of the world would be like. No one wins.

Several times within her journal, Cedar (the main character) writes about her future child’s growth, musing over the large numbers and small scale of each bit of growth. She admits that it all seems meaningless, but somehow important at the same time. Just like the end of the world—just like any other hyper-object—it’s too large or to small to comprehend, so she focuses on things that are her size. Her relationships with her moms, her dads, her sister, her grandmother, her “angel”, and the other pregnant women she meets along the way are what drives her. The crisis is endured by all, and so is not a concern that is discussed. It is there, all are aware of it, but every faction moves on their own for their own means. There’s no one group trying to save all of humanity, even those that they they are doing so are trying to create their own world.

ENG 350 – “The Road”

Last week I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. To keep with my theme of comparing the novels I read for class to video games, I’d love to compare The Road to The Last Of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013), but I’ve never played the game. I only know its a zombie apocalypse game that focuses on the main character transporting a young girl to a safe location. Its a game I’ve meant to play but never got around to, and like The Road, the narrative is more about the relationships than the state of the world.

Though the class focuses on climate related fiction, I don’t feel that the situation in The Road is strictly climate fiction. It’s about the old fear of nuclear winter rather than the new fear of global warming. It focuses more on the powerlessness of the main characters at the hands of other humans than the uncaring universe. Don’t get me wrong, the uncaring universe is there, but it’s there for everyone. When something is so ever-present, it ceases to be a worry, and more of just a concern. A factor that must be taken into account rather than directly planned for.

In The Road, the man (who is never named, other than “Papa”) is entirely concerned with protecting the boy (his son, who again is never named). This protection ranges from tending to his physical needs (food, water, shelter) as well as his metaphysical ones. The man fosters a kindness in the boy that, even as the boy begins to call out the hypocrisy of the man, the man still insists the boy must adhere to. This echoes much of the world as is—”Do as I say, not as I do”—where people martyr themselves so that others don’t have to. It’s always wishful thinking in my opinion, as everyone must always survive, and protecting people in this way sometimes makes them unable to care for themselves in morally ambiguous situations.

The relationships between the main characters and other characters, however brief, are as important as the relationship between the main characters themselves. When two people have only each other, they can say whatever they want, but when a witness comes around, their attitude changes. The boy hints near the end that the stories the man told him about being the good guys are just that—stories. Lies. A mask the man wants to wear in front of the boy. But when others come around who are just as desperate, the boy wants the man to wear the mask, but the man knows the mask is flimsy and won’t protect them.

The end is “happy” in a sense, in that the boy won’t be alone, but we also don’t know his future. To truly be a dystopic story, though, I think the boy should have suffered alone longer. Not that I would wish that upon anyone, but the boy went from one protection to another—and honestly, when would that ever happen? Does it even happen now?

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 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.