Monday, December 30, 2013

What am I Listening to?: Nineteenth Century Literature

As I wandered through the downtown Ann Arbor's ample audiobook selection, I was at a loss as to what to look for, so I decided to start at the beginning - A. My eye fell on "Austen, Jane" and the title Sense & Sensibility. I read Persuasion when I was in college for my British Literature II class, and in my last week in California, I sped through Emma. I've seen multiple film versions of all three, and also Pride & Prejudice, so I thought it was probably time I read Sense & Sensibility (or, in this case, listened to a reading of) since the Hollywood film adaptation of this novel had always been my favorite of those I'd seen, probably due to Alan Rickman's irresistible portrayal of Colonel Brandon. 

I think, now that I have familiarized myself (it gets so awkward when one has read some and listened to others) with three novels of Jane Austen's, Persuasion still remains my favorite. I honestly couldn't tell who the heroine Anne would end up with until right before it was concluded for me! That's my favorite kind of story, the unpredictable kind. Though perhaps it was Hollywood's portrayals, and their loathing of subtlety, that guided me in my reading (and listening) of the novels. I also admit feeling disappointed in the match of Marianne and Brandon because, in the book, it seems like Marianne didn't fall in love with him, but yielded to the pressure of her family and friends to marry him, eventually learning to love him. It all worked out, I suppose, but left me feeling disquieted. 

When I finished Sense & Sensibility, I wanted to continue in that vein of novel, but Pride & Prejudice wasn't available at the time, so I settled instead on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I'd actually been wanting to read Wuthering Heights since Stephenie Meyer made such a fuss about it in her Twilight novels. What could these two books possibly have in common, I wondered. Quite a bit, as it turns out, in the characters of Catherine Linton and Bella Swan, both selfish, fickle young women who want to keep both of their sweethearts in their lives and live happily ever after with the three of them together. (Like that ever works out.) 

I don't like Catherine. I also don't like Heathcliff. Neither character is in the least bit sympathetic in my mind, both being unspeakably selfish and mean. The character Nelly Dean is absolutely right when she tells the  initial narrator there are no redeeming qualities to Heathcliff. Granted, I am only halfway through, but I was ready to give up before disc one was over, everyone was so miserable and full of spite. Then the frozen specter of Catherine showed up at the narrator's window demanding admittance. 

I've read in a few books about vampires that Catherine is often speculated to be one. I rather doubt this was the intention of the author as it was written in 1845, though pieces like Polidori's The Vampyre were well circulated. It seems clear to me that Catherine's dream of being thrown out of heaven to wander the moors simply came true. (Nelly does go on at some length about dreams being prophecies after all.) Still, I was intrigued enough to keep listening. 

I realize that the flashback is narrated by Nelly and can only reflect her own experiences, but I do wish there had been some explanation, even speculation, of Edgar Linton's draw to Catherine because she is a real bitch! Not only is she the definition of self-absorbed, she is bat-shit insane, and I'm pretty convinced she deserves what is coming to her.

This isn't to say that I think Wuthering Heights is badly written - it's beautifully written and the characters are greatly established! The main lovers are just horrible, horrible people who don't even deserve each other. I am very interested to see what Hollywood has done to this story. I know a number of people who adore the 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. I enjoyed Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favorite books and musicals, so I would very much like to see this version. 

So that is what I have been listening to this holiday season. The classics!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holiday

I had intended to write some kind of post tonight, but as I have really only been working and attempting to finish making my mother's Christmas present, I don't have much to say. We plastic wrapped our windows in hopes of lowering next month's heating bill? (Yes, this is a legitimate thing to do, I swear.)

For those traveling, safe travels, and everyone have a good holiday, whatever you celebrate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snow Day

Today isn't exactly a snow day, though on Saturday we did receive enough snow to effectively shut down the entire Metro Detroit region. It's more of a "Wow That Snow Totally Killed Our Sales So Now We Can't Afford To Have So Many People On Staff Today" day. I was originally scheduled to work 61 hours this week and 10 days in a row, so I am pretty delighted by this break!

Judging by the snow piled on my balcony, we had about 6 or 8 inches of snow dumped on us. Snow fell for about twice as long as the weather reports kept saying it would; they just pushed back the time they thought it would stop by another hour or two when the snow didn't stop at the previous estimation. This is Michigan, and it snows a lot here, but Southeast Michigan is the least prepared for it. When I drove to work on Saturday morning at 8:30, I was honestly worried for my safety with only 2 inches of snow on the ground! I grew up in Lake Effect country, so I have driven in 2 feet of snow with no worries because in the rest of Michigan, the local governments send out fleets of snow plows and de-icing trucks as soon as the snow starts accumulating so that by prime commuting time the roads are clear and dry. 

Not so out here. Ann Arbor only plows the major roads and not until the snow has stopped falling. Despite being one of the most affluent cities in Michigan, they insist there isn't enough money in the city budget to pay for snow plows. I call bullshit on this. They also insist that there isn't enough money to pay for all the street lights in town, so they took away roughly 50% of them (some are still standing, they are just dark), making my walk home at night from my job to my car even more fearful because I can't see where I am going or if anyone is waiting to jump me. 

This may be a ploy by the city to encourage people to forgo the free parking in the surrounding neighborhoods and instead spring for the well-lit parking garages or metered street parking that is close enough to downtown to be lit by street lamps. It has worked on me. I pay to park at the meters about 999% more than I did before the street lights went dark. The serial rapist that was on the loose a couple of years ago is still at large, and I don't want to be one of his victims should he choose to return. Also, since the neighborhoods don't get plowed in winter, I run the risk of having my car get stuck should I venture into them, and I can't afford a tow truck.

Since I have the day mostly to myself, I am catching up on mending pants for work, cleaning my disaster of an apartment, doing a load of laundry, and setting up goals on SparkPeople. I tried doing Weight Watchers again this year, but the food options were not at all what I wanted. In favoring foods low in fat, WW promotes high sugar and sodium foods and a diet extremely lacking in whole foods. A whole food diet can be made compatible with WW, but it seems silly, in a way, because a whole food diet is healthier because it includes saturated fat, which is good for the heart and arteries. WW would have you believe drinking milk is bad for you when it is, in fact, quite healthy! SparkPeople puts an emphasis on a balanced diet, which is much easier, and more intuitive, to follow.

I also plan to run some errands because the sky is mostly sunny and the roads are largely clear at this point. The 9 cars I saw over the weekend abandoned by the roadside have all been removed. Most importantly, Greg and I get to spend an evening together, even if it does involve Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"Misquoting Jesus" and "The Rich and the Rest of Us"

In honor of "Spiritual Awareness Month", I've been listening to the audiobook Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman in my car on my way to and from work. I was raised Methodist by my mother. After many years of agonizing over potential eternal damnation, I am longer a Christian. I consider myself Taoist.

As it turns out, I was never a very good Christian, even as a church-goer, since I never believed - it was never impressed on me to believe - that Jesus was (or is, if you wish) in any way divine. I had always accepted him as a fully human, divinely inspired and enlightened teacher. I may have been given this impression by my father, who never, ever accompanied my mother, brother, and me to church, but I don't recall it ever being contradicted by my mother, a former Catholic, who seemed to me to have rejected that whole Trinity thing. God was God, Jesus was Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was just something you said in prayer. From Misquoting Jesus I have learned that many early Christians believed and worshiped similarly, and were subsequently stomped out by the Orthodoxy. (I always knew I was born in the wrong era.)

I may or may not have mentioned here before that I very nearly earned a degree in Comparative Religions. (I ran out of money and had to be content with Asian Studies and Creative Writing as majors and Japanese as my minor.) I took several religious study and philosophy classes in college and still very much enjoy religious study. Despite no longer being a Christian, I think Christianity is my favorite religion to study, probably because Christianity is so popularly used in America to oppress and abuse countless people while expounding itself  as the Groovy Love and Peace religion. Of course, there are all those countless millions throughout history who have been tortured and murdered in Jesus' name, as well, may they rest in peace. A most contradictory religion if I ever saw one.

While Misquoting Jesus is going in my car, on my breaks and in a few stolen moments before and after work, I am reading the physical book The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, and it really has been going along well with Jesus quite nicely given his messages of helping the poor. The authors bring up Christian charity, and the lack there-of, quite often.

I myself am poor, and I am not afraid or ashamed to say it. As friends West and Smiley repeatedly stress in their beautiful and powerful manifesto, there is empowerment in addressing one's situation. Poverty is a humongous, monumental problem in America that people, and especially politicians, are afraid to talk about. We need to accept it, talk about it, and do something about it! What better time to put it out there than Christmas?

I try to do my small part by visiting click-to-donate sites like Care2 and the Hunger Site. I have an entire blog post devoted to such sites here: How to Donate to Charity When You're Flat Broke. I can't afford to give money out of my own pocket to charities, but the companies and organizations that by advertising space on these sites can, and with every view I give their ads, they donate real money to real charities and causes.

I have also vowed this holiday season to do all of my shopping for presents at locally owned and operated stores as much as possible. I did have to drop by a JoAnn's to pick up some supplies for homemade presents, but they are a chain based out of our neighboring state of Ohio, which is kind of local. I used to make it a point to shop at Borders when I lived in California because it was based in Michigan. If anyone can recommend a local yarn retailer in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, or Canton, that'd be great!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Remember: Accumulated Wealth Makes for a Merry Christmas

I realized yesterday, after looking over my ridiculously inflated work schedule for the month of December, that ever since I first joined the work force at the age of 16, I have been milking Christians and their sacred holiday for all they are worth. And Christians in America are worth a lot. I was simultaneously raised Christian, and along with that came lessons of goodwill, charity, the importance of giving and not receiving, etc. I realize now, looking back, that those recitations come in direct violation with Christmas Lists and the High Holy Day that is Black Friday in America. 

Christmas is really all about greed. If it weren't, retailers wouldn't try so damned hard to lure people into their stores, let alone succeed. But people don't even really have to be lured. They're so well trained at this point that it doesn't matter what crappy deal you offer them. You don't even have to offer them anything, and they will come! Evidence: the many people who flocked to my stores on Black Friday despite the total lack of sales.

Because of this, December is a great time to get a temporary job. At one store, we doubled our number of employees. Seasonal part-timers actually outnumber regular part-timers. Why? Because of greed. Nothing we sell is terribly useful. It's mostly just for fun with the occasional nifty gadget thrown in. Do you really need that dish towel covered in dancing snowmen? No. But you buy it anyway. Why? Because you can. And hopefully because it makes you happy to do so. But mostly? Because you can. I don't buy goofy things like that because I can't afford them. But your power to buy it empowers me to buy other things, like food and heat.

So thank you, Christian America for letting your greed for largely useless items go hog wild for one month out of the year. Whether you realize it or not, your lust for material objects really is a form of charity.  You keep our hurting economy going. Because you need that snowman towel, need it so badly you'll buy five of them to share with friends or to have a back-up in case the first one gets dirty (it will; it's a towel), and because you're buying for friends, you also need them all gift-wrapped separately, with different paper and colored ribbons on each so you can tell them apart even though they are all the same exact thing, people like me get to double our incomes and pay off bills that have been haunting us for the rest of the year. 

At one store, we hired four people just to wrap your presents for you. That's four people who will have extra money in their pockets all thanks to your greed and laziness. And the rest of us regulars are maxed out on hours. This means that the week before Christmas, between my two jobs, I am working 61 hours. That is nearly double my usual load. Yes, I will be so stressed that I'll probably break down and cry at the end of every ten to twelve hour day, but for one month - heck, probably two or three - I will not struggle to balance bill paying. 

So thank you for your lustful, greedy insanity that leads to inadvertent charity, and reiterating year after year the true meaning of the birth of your savior: accumulated wealth. God bless.