Category Archives: Essay

Thoughts on Life, writ large. i am occasionally prone to these.

something old, nothing new

random coincidences of the internet just caused me to rediscover a short story / sketch thing i wrote my junior year at midd… i’m actually a little impressed with myself!  (now if only i could make worthwhile words come out in my current academic writing…) posting this here for my own edification and for posterity, since it’s in german, but you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s decent.

Wir machen eine Reise…


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clearing of throat, stepping up onto soapbox

this comes a bit late – after all, congress did (unsurprisingly) reach something not unlike a budget compromise at the eleventh hour, thereby avoiding a government shutdown, aka y2k+11.  but i have to put in my two cents (aside from the fact that i think almost all congressional representatives, democrat and republican, need to be poked in the eye and replaced by real people in lieu of political emotibots).

there was a big movement on facebook in the days leading up to the Great Government Shutdown Scare of 2011 to ensure that, even in the event of a shutdown (this year or in the future), measures would be taken to make sure that troops serving abroad would continue to be paid.  and while i think that is a noble cause on many levels, and while i would never be in favor of depriving our troops of their pay, i don’t think they should be paid in the event of a shutdown.  why?  because the military is the last branch of public servants left (besides legislators, oddly enough) that haven’t yet become vilified in public opinion because of labor and union issues.  and because nothing would put more pressure on our congresspeople to take a deep breath, get the party line sticks out of their asses, and make real, meaningful, immediate compromise than a whole lot of pissed-off troops, veterans, military families, and american citizens in general.  it would be a real wake-up call… and let’s face it, congress needs a wake up call REAL BAD.

and to all of you legislators out there in the ether who, unfortunately, do not read my blog, and even more unfortunately, are attempting to pass legislation vilifying rape victims, limiting health care to those who need it most, and stripping rights away from people who have vaginas (since you fall into none of those three categories): you may all go do something obscenely biological to yourselves in a corner until such time as i have less adorno to read and more time to write up an eloquent excoriation of you and everything you stand for.

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i am conflicted about THE WORLD

THE WORLD gives me writer’s block.  THE WORLD makes me paralyzed.  the world is BIG and full of BAD THINGS and i live in it kind of.  and i have nothing to say about it.

there’s so much going on in THE WORLD.  six weeks ago it was the protests in egypt, then coming out of that, the continued unrest in libya, where a government is attacking its own people.  i started and deleted about six posts about these things.  for the last week, it’s been earthquakes, tsunamis, and now nuclear who-knows-what in japan.  i keep trying to have Something To Say about these events, these major WORLD HAPPENINGS AND CATASTROPHES, but i know next to nothing about middle eastern politics or nuclear power or rescue efforts or military strategy.

to write a blog post here in my dusty little corner of the internet giving my two cents about these things seems silly; what do i have to contribute?  even the headlines that do penetrate into my small bubble of existing seem to bounce right off.  gay marriage (or not)?  health care?  collective bargaining rights?  ohio cutting its higher education budget?  these things affect me directly, and i still can’t muster up meaningful words (um, thoughts) about them.

all this stuff is flying around my head, and i’m writing about:
– the ophelia myth in 20th century literature
– the unreasonable speed with which grey fluff builds up on white tile in my bathroom
– the fact that being in the basement when mal is playing upstairs  sounds like being underneath a convention of a major international bowling society
– the warmish weather and halleluja we’ve been able to open the windows a crack
– the cat goes bananas over said open windows

it all makes me a little jealous of my parents’ generation, or even my grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation.  where you inhabited your little bubble of being, and THE WORLD was kept at bay by sheer dint of distance, and newspaper headlines and rss feeds and twitter and facebook updates didn’t inundate you with IT IS SO MUCH WORSE EVERYWHERE ELSE and YOUR PROBLEMS AND SMALL TRIUMPHS ARE TRULY INSIGNIFICANT and make you doubt every bowl of cereal that you ate and every nap that you took and every page of literary analysis that you wrote.

THE WORLD MAKES ME CONFLICTED.  there is so much going on out there, and i’m struggling and struggling to make my little bubble of existence meaningful, and the failure of those two things to mesh is just making me miserable.  and if i spend the day glued to the NYT headlines, i feel like an insignificant bug, and if i go hide from my insignificantness in front of the TV or in a yoga class or in my kitchenaid mixer, i feel like an insignificant bug.  i feel like a nauseous, sad, insignificant bug.  this is not a post of self-pity, and i am not asking for comments saying OH BUT YOU ARE SIGNIFICANT WE LOVE YOU AND THERE ARE RAINBOWS YAY.  in fact, please do not say those things in comments.

i read books and talk about them, and i am good at that.  i teach language, and i am good at that.  i am trying to take those things, which i am good at and also which i like, and make them mesh into the world outside of my bubble.  so far, i have not been successful at this: the job i applied for in boston didn’t pan out, because they had so many qualified candidates (not me).  i guess i don’t know how to become qualified at something that makes a difference, because everybody else gets in the door first because they are already more qualified.

…i’m going to go make bread now, and pay my taxes.


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the politics of theater

warning: in the essay below, i will make my political views unabashedly known, make a controversial comparison, expound upon an idea not originally my own, and rant on politics, history, and literature ALL AT THE SAME TIME and it’s gonna be epic.

in my seminar on epic theater, we recently read berthold brecht’s play der aufhaltsame aufstieg des arturo ui, which parodies the political rise of hitler as the story of a small, somewhat inept but unambitious chicago gangster attempting to take over the chicago vegetable market.  the small-time crook, ui, is portrayed as a bumbling, somewhat discontented criminal surrounded by powerful friends (ernesto roma, the stand-in for ernst röhm, famously later purged from hitler’s government) who push him to the front of their political movement by taking advantage of a crippled economy and corruption and back-room dealings by the cauliflower trust (the prussian junkers) and the weak inter-war government (the barman dogsborough, standing in for the last inter-war president, hindenberg).  one major flaw of the play (in my humble opinion) is that it fails to take into account the sort of mass flocking to the national socialist cause, which is undeniably also an important factor in considering hitler’s rise to power.

brecht’s play was only rarely performed during his lifetime, but was recently performed on broadway, starring al pacino as ui; this, if you ask me, was the director’s first mistake, as pacino comes to the stage with far more street cred and gangsta bad-assery than ui really should have.  a new york times review criticized the play for being a little heavy-handed in its allegorical connotations (rightly so, ugh).  at any rate, reviewers of the play also criticized the play for making inappropriately salient certain comparisons between hitler’s rise / the early fascist years in germany and george w. bush’s two terms as president.

i’ve heard these comparisons tossed about liberally (pun intended) by various friends and classmates, especially at nice, safe, liberal middlebury.  accusations of rampant cronyism, lack of transparency, a bipolar attitude towards incendiary nationalism, and global imperialist intentions were hurled with some abandon.  to be perfectly clear, i was never a fan of the bush regime or just about anything it did.  yet i feel that these comparisons are more incendiary than apt, and make other, more appropriate criticisms of the regime seem laughable.

ANYWAY.  the point of this post was that my rather batty yet occasionally perspicacious seminar professor observed, in an unguarded moment, that ui’s rise is better compared to the rise of america’s favorite hockey mom, sarah palin.

i was a little shocked when i heard this.  you compare sarah palin to arturo ui, you compare her to hitler.  it’s a little harsh for anyone who hasn’t recently committed an assortment of crimes against humanity.  but the more i thought about it, the more true the comment rang.  (please don’t tell her i said that; i more or less live to antagonize this particular professor this quarter, and baiting her has become my favorite sport.)  think about it…

arturo ui, as i said, is a small-time crook (hitler was a virtually unknown politician; palin was, famously, governor of alaska).  in the play and in its real life, sadly less slapstick counterpart storyline, he is shored up by powerful, ambitious friends (cough-johnmccain-cough).  there is even a scene where ernesto roma encourages ui to take elocution lessons: picture charlie chaplin playing the part of gene kelly in singin’ in the rain.  but anyway, i realized that what brecht’s play is portraying is, for the most part, the part of the story before most of america started quipping, “i can see russia from my house!”  the powerful friends making a small but ambitious politician the (church picnic casserole-ing, lipstick-wearing, hockey mom-in) face of a movement?  it does sound a little familiar…

what happens after the curtain falls on arturo ui?  that once bumbling gangster goes on to incite hundreds of thousands of people, through a sense of national history (the swastika is an ancient germanic rune; andrew romano recently wrote an excellent piece for newsweek about how sarah palin’s movement has made use of a different iconic symbol of cultural heritage) and in the face of a struggling economy, to cling to farther right politics than either of their countries (i mean… vegetable markets) had seen in years.

it’s easy to throw stones at the bush administration.  in hindsight, there were a number of major cockups, and the close calls in both elections made his time in power that much more heavily derided by his opposition.  but history does repeat itself, potentially in moose-shooting, star-dancing ways that we might never have expected.

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