Tag Archives: literature

Of Mice and Men and Dreams

I’ve been helping a friend’s daughter who is now taking classes in Canada via an online portal. She’s preparing to move there come January. I’ve been helping her with her English and Biology. Recently, I insisted that we start looking at classic books and analyzing them the way high school students do in North America. I didn’t want her to go to Canada and not know books like Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, etc. I also wanted her to familiarize herself with the analytical tradition of studying as well. I notice that most Korean students are trained to memorize and regurgitate facts instead of analyzing them and generating new truths. It was a fortunate if not serendipitous move on my part then that we learned that she’ll be studying Of Mice and Men in a few weeks, a book that we already started discussing.

One of Steinbeck’s themes in the book is the death of a dream and how one becomes part of meaningless cycle of toil and hopelessness. The book was written in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression. In the beginning of the book, it describes itinerant workers toiling during the week and spending all of their money on liquor and women at the local brothels, the cycle continuously repeating, and the men being trapped in the hopeless lifestyle. In contrast, the protagonist of the book, George and Lenny, dream of someday saving up enough money to buy their own farm and raising animals, and most especially, rabbits. By the end of the book, the dream is dashed, and George, not having a dream, presumably becomes just like the other men in the farm, trapped in a cycle of endless labor.

I see where Steinbeck is coming from, but I believe despite his very dour description of life in the 1930s, what he paints is a very idealistic, almost Norman Rockwellian view of how life in America should be, a view that basically hasn’t changed throughout all time. In order to have a successful life, you have to own a home, an idealized home, whatever that means. In George and Lenny’s case, it’s one with animals.

The thing about homes and the dream of homes is that it gives a sense of permanence, literally a shelter that will be there for you and one that will presumably be able to be passed to your children and grandchildren, a legacy that will outlast your very short existence. But how is that dream, or any dream for that matter, any different from the existence of the men in the farm? You work for most of your life, you pay off your mortgage, you spend a few years enjoying retirement, you die. The house and all of your legacy will eventually be whittled away by your descendants until you are but a faded memory. And these descendants will continue on with their own dreams. Maybe all of the work you did made their life a bit better; at least, the house you bought gave them shelter, but you still ended up working everyday and spending most of your life doing something you would rather not do.

Maybe the dream is working in a farm all of your life? Maybe the dream is going to brothels every weekend? That’s not what we have been trained to want all of our lives, but I suspect the dream that Steinbeck envisioned in the book is simply the traditional long-term delayed gratification we’ve all been educated and conditioned to want, as opposed to the short term gratification cycle that the men in the farm enjoy. It’s quite religious almost. Endure the toils and suffering on earth for now; later, you will be rewarded in heaven. Looking back, and since I myself an a recipient of a lifetime of programming and biases, I don’t think I’m qualified to tell which one is better.

….

I’ve touched up on the topic of death many times before. I remember one time talking about the all too common and simple way of dying by colliding with a planet (basically jumping to your death) and another time talking about how easy it is to harvest cherry seed pits. Recently, I’ve been thinking that all death comes down to three categories: death by evolution, death by biology, and death by physics. Death by evolution is basically all death that involves being eaten by another animal, basically taking part in the food pyramid. It’s probably the most exotic of all deaths since not many people die from getting eaten by animals compared to other forms of death. Where am I supposed to get eaten by wolves in Seoul?

Death by biology is death caused by the failings of our own physical bodies, be it aging, cancer, or any sort of disease. Looking at statistics, it’s what most deaths are: cancer, heart disease, and in 2020, coronavirus. Death by biology is the slowest of deaths and probably the most natural, but it is far from being kind. The atheist argument to the non-existence of a benevolent God is the fact that he allows the existence of childhood cancer and all sorts of natural and unavoidable maladies to fall onto children.

The last category is death by physics. This is death caused by our bodies’ inability to survive the powers of physics, be it the kinetic force of a bullet, or the marriage of mass and gravity when we fall to our doom. I suppose most homicides, at least violent ones, are death by physics. Most people dream of a slow death by biology. Death by physics are often the most jarring of deaths.

Lenny from Of Mice and Men died from physics. George will probably suffer a long death by biology.

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The Stone Angel

TravelManitoba

I remember being asked to read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence back in high school. It was one of the many wonderful books that our English teacher used to try to infuse some humanity into our young minds. I don’t remember the story much, but I do remember the parallels between the old character in the book and the ultimate fate of Margaret Laurence. It’s like she literally became one of the characters she wrote about. I really should look into the Manawaka series again.

Speaking of Manawaka, my works will be displayed in the town it was based on, Neepawa, Manitoba.  When I used to go camping and hiking with my best friend, I remember visiting there once. Here in Asia, when people think of Canada, the first places that come out of people’s mouths are Toronto and Vancouver. But when they describe Canada, they would often imagine a place much closer to towns like Neepawa.

I love big cities like Vancouver and Ottawa, and even smaller ones like Winnipeg, but it is smaller rural towns cradling close to liberated Canadian wilderness that most people here in Asia often imagine. It is in many ways romantic. I guess like me, that image is mostly from the desire to escape from convoluted concrete jungles like Seoul.

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Could be Tomorrow

Lungs

I’m off to Vietnam this week. I don’t know much about the country and its beautiful people, so I’ll talk about The Handmaid’s Tale instead. What a wonderful, wonderful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work (a Canadian treasure)! Good job, Hulu! What’s really interesting about the book and the show itself is that if there’s ever a more apt book to adapt for the times, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a work of “speculative fiction,” much like books like The Road or Blindness, it doesn’t need much fantasy in order for something to become our reality. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and military dictatorship just needs to marry together, something which humanity has experimented with several times before.

And it’s not like we’re that far off from Ms. Atwood’s fiction. The world is becoming more and more militaristic. Many countries’ police officers are starting to look more like military forces. There’s a loud growing movement of conservatism with their adherence to religious dogma and a distrust of science and news media. And more and more, dictatorial rule seems to be coming back into fashion with many people blindly supporting strong men. Even my father pines for the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and praises the likes of Duterte. The show did a great job of incorporating current trends and technology and making it part of the narrative. It almost screams at the viewers, “this could be you! You’d better do something about it” It’s not enough that we trust our collective goodness as a society. Our hubris, our confidence that several others will do good despite of our inaction, will lead to our eventual downfall. I’d like to believe more Americans are sensible, and yet Donald Trump and his ilk run the country. I was impressed at how friendly, welcoming, and seemingly sensible everyone was the last time I visited the Philippines, but they’re the same people who would deny their neighbors are being killed for their vices, even if it happens almost every day. My workplace is surrounded by people who yearn for the days of dictatorial rule in Korea.

It is scary. It really wouldn’t take much.

 

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The longest death (is not so bad)

Triumph

Sometimes nothing happens except for me making art. And that’s what I consider a fairly good week.

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Lightning Alley

beer

Writing poetry…

The bead curtain rattles, Sally’s skirt sways.
She does a jig on the porch like I was hallucinating
As the CD player plays.
Bob Dylan rambles about the depressed,
He sounds like he’s singing about me, and I only want Sally.
Don’t send me back to my apartment,
I don’t want to watch Frasier re-runs tonight.
Don’t go inside as well,
You know exactly why I came here.
I know you’re terrified and know
That you’re almost forty
But you should believe in this drug that I’m on.
You’re not that pretty but you would do,
And that’s okay for the time being.
You can cower in your blankie
And cross-examine whatever’s making you ill
And you can make ornaments out of your exes,
Throw daisies when it’s pouring out,
Wasting your holiday break praying
For some decent fellow to come out of the neighborhood
I’m not that guy, everyone knows
All I could offer is my mediocre body
Underneath this sweat-stained hoodie
With the small likelihood that we could live to retirement
But what else is there?
Just open the window wide open
And let the Saskatchewan air mess up your hair.
Tonight is full of possibilities
And the road in front of your house goes both ways
We only have one chance in our lives
So ditch everything and get inside my Dodge Stratus.
Can we hold hands? I could drive one-handed.
We’re going to the land of Abraham
Via Lightning Alley
It’s right there, like John Wayne Gacy at large.
The clock says 2:00 am but we should book it.
Via Lightning Alley. Let’s go.
Via Lightning Alley.

Of course this is all a goof. I submitted this to a poetry Webzine, wondering whether they’d catch it or not. But now I don’t know… maybe they like Bruce Springsteen too.

 

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Ideas Cages Fired by Former Beatle

Bird_cage

I dreamt Sir Paul McCartney fired me for failing to properly proofread a book. That book being the encyclopedia, specifically the book under M. Granted, I assume I must’ve learned quite about from topics under A to M, but I woke up quite the sting, being fired by a knight and former Beatle.

2014 so far: I lost one of my clients because his company will no longer pay for my services. He admits that my services are far too costly to be coming out of his pocket so that was it. Just like that, I’m $400 a month poorer. Doctors also found that my right thyroid is a bit enlarged, so I’m being observed for hyperthyroidism or malignant cysts. So far, the bloodwork says everything is normal, but my cholesterol is a bit high. Ugh, not a great year. Though I’m not really at my most optimistic since I update my Website on Mondays.

IDEA: If this has been done before, let me know. Viewer/player/reader receives an envelope containing three articles: a newspaper article, an initial autopsy, and an interview from a witness. Five questions about the information follows. Getting four questions right leads to another envelope with more information (maybe another report from a different precinct, a detective agency, etc.). This leads to five more questions, etc. where the difficulty is raised and the person is not just asked to repeat facts but to piece together information. Getting questions wrong and not getting the next envelope leads to the wrong person getting arrested and the perpetrator getting away. The last question is who did it and what happened.

I’m thinking of cases similar to the Elisa Lam case, where a Canadian student was found drowned in a hotel water tank with no evidence of foul play and with footage of her talking to an invisible stranger in the hotel elevator.

So far, the idea sounds like a fun thing to do in a classroom. Students get together in groups, gets to discuss the facts, then answer the questions. They get them right, then they move on, etc. I’m wondering if there’s a way that would make the chore of answering questions a little more fun so that the viewer/player/reader doesn’t have to be confined in a classroom. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (http://www.amazon.com/The-Letters-John-Abigail-Adams/dp/0142437115) sounds like a good template… perhaps mixed with a bit of Choose Your Own Adventure, but I don’t know how that would all work.

Just trying to find a way to write creatively and perhaps turn that idea into a product.

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