Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring Nights

I love to sleep with my windows open. The cool night air of early Spring creeps in and overtakes my bed, which is right beside the window. In the middle of the night, I wake up with a chill and have to reach for my comforter, pull it up to my chin. My bed becomes an oasis of warmth, while the rest of the room grows chilly. In the morning, I feel as though I'm emerging from a cocoon. But boy, am I ready to start my day.

I leave the curtains open. The moment I click off my light, I can see out but no one can see in anymore. It is conspiratorial. Just me and the darkness and the cool night air. And of course, my thoughts. I can think whatever I want to think, dream all of the lovely dreams I'd like. There is no daylight to tell me of limitations. I can spy on the neighborhood like a detective, or like a thief. No one will know which it is.

I love the feeling of connection with outside that comes from leaving the windows open. If there is a storm after night, as there was on Tuesday, I'm sure to wake up with the thunder. It's the best way to be woken because I am safe and warm and inside and I can observe the force of the storm. It's the best way to fall asleep--listening to the monotony of rain and, eventually, of thunder. (Even that seems to have its patterns if you listen long enough.)

This is without a doubt my favorite time of year.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On War and Violence

Last Friday, I saw the movie Platoon for the first time. My boyfriend and I have a list of all movies that have won a Best Picture Academy Award since they started giving the award in 1927, and we’re on a mission to watch as many of these movies as possible. Platoon was the winner in 1986.

I thought it was a very good movie, and I especially enjoyed Willem Dafoe in his role. (Which is not surprising … I’m always impressed with him.) I liked the theme of “good vs. evil, but what is really good and what is really evil?” And the images of war were well drawn.

One thing that disturbed me, and that always disturbs me in war movies like this one, is the depiction of violence for the sake of violence. In one scene, a young soldier is shown taking a sick satisfaction and enjoyment in torturing a Vietnamese man. A scene soon after shows (in graceful lack of detail) soldiers lined up to rape two Vietnamese girls. Scenes like this absolutely turn my stomach and they make me think—what kind of person would participate in this kind of activity? And more so—can war drive an otherwise normal, reasonable person to this madness of violence and lack of respect for fellow human beings? Basically, is the action the consequence of the person alone (their lack of morality, their cruelty), or is the action the consequence a person caught up in war? I assume it is at least to some degree the former, because there are also moral heroes in war, people who put a stop to such violence when they encounter it. (As did Dafoe’s character in this movie.)

This thought pattern led me to think further … As I watch the movie, I’m rooting for the “good guys” … Dafoe, Charlie Sheen’s character, and the group of soldiers with whom they’re associated. Are there people who watch the same movie and root for the “bad guys?” Are there people who secretly (or not very secretly) think—that’s how I would act, as well—killing, raping. And what’s wrong with that?

I know that in the Vietnam war there was so much more than good vs. evil. Going into a village, a group of American soldiers could be met with entirely innocent Vietnamese people, or they could be met with enemies in disguise. And it was difficult to impossible to know which was which. They saw friends and allies dying, and I imagine so much rage and hatred built up in them toward the Vietnamese. I don’t mean to neglect or downplay these facts in my discussion above of violence. I’m just using this movie as an example of something that has always disturbed me—in many movies and books, about the Vietnam war, other wars, and other circumstances. It’s a violence that I cannot fathom. It’s a violence that makes me wonder what is wrong with our world.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

To Sea! (Part 2)

Dear Mr. Martel:

I recently read your novel, Life of Pi, and I’d like to express to you a few thoughts and comments based on my reading.

1) I greatly enjoyed this book. Beside one spot in the middle … just after Pi is stranded on the boat, before he becomes resourceful … I thought it was well written and interesting. (The spot I refer to above, though written well, I found a bit boring.) I am recommending this book to friends.

2) Your book made me think about the sea and its grandeur.

3) More so, your book made me think about the nature of storytelling. I think the book would have been much more forgettable if not for the last 20 or so pages, in which Pi retells his story. Right after I read this section of the book, I immediately reread it. I was stunned. When I set the book down, the comparison of the two stories is the thing that lingered for me. I won’t say as much as I could here, because I don’t want to give anything away to those who have not yet read this book. I will say—well done!

4) I also found your treatment of religion interesting. Pi practices 3 types of religion—Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. I would have liked to hear more about this. In a way, I was disappointed when Pi became stranded on the boat because I’d been quite interested in the first 100 pages of the book, hearing about Pi’s life in India. Despite the fact that Pi’s time in the boat made up the bulk of the story, I think the parts of the story I found most interesting were those before and after the boat.

5) I very much enjoyed your discussion of zoos, and how they are or are not harmful toward animals. (Really, your discussion centered around how they are not harmful.) I have always loved zoos, but in past years have felt a guilt associated with my affection. After reading this book, I feel of vindication, like my love might be all right. At the very least, I enjoyed your descriptions of life as a zookeeper and as a zookeeper’s son. That is like a dream from my childhood that I didn’t even know I had, until I read this book. I know being surrounded by animals would have made me a very happy child.

6) I learned on Wikipedia the history of the tiger’s name, Richard Parker. This was a character in a Poe story but also a historical fact of disaster at sea and cannibalism several times over. I think this would make an interesting endnote to the text. But perhaps the reader is just supposed to be clever and resourceful enough to find out that extra detail on his/her own.

7) I think this book would be well-suited to an academic setting, probably high school or undergraduate. I think students would be interested in the story, and it would make for a great discussion on the art and practice of storytelling.

8) Secret confession: When I started this book, I thought it was based on actual events. (Sometimes fake forwards/prefaces can confuse me.) I figured out that it was not, and then felt silly.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

To Sea! (Part 1)

Lately, my life has taken a tilt toward nautical. First, I read the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel (more on that in To Sea! Part 2 … coming soon.). Second, I went to the Cincinnati Museum Center and experienced an exhibit on the Titanic.

The sea is magnificent and dangerous. It has such allure. As a landlocked Ohioan, I can only imagine life by the sea and life at sea. But I catch glimpses in the strangest places, and begin to feel that I understand, at least on some level.

For example, whenever I hear the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass, I feel that I get a glimpse (silly as it sounds) at a life at sea. It’s the story of a woman who loves a man, and a man who loves the sea. I find this line (explanation of why the man can’t stay with the woman) particularly telling: “But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.”

What is it that drives men (and women) to such a love affair? The grandeur? The mystery?

I also caught a glimpse of understanding during a vacation to Florida last summer. I was staying in a beach house across the street from the Gulf of Mexico and visited the Gulf several times a day to “swim” (more just bop around in the water), to walk the shore, and just to sit and stare. Especially the Gulf in the early morning and late evening was hypnotic to me. The sight and sound and smell of it all came together to bring a strange peace. It’s not that the Gulf itself was peaceful—several days there were storms out at sea and rocky waves coming to shore. The peace had to do with the vastness and the constancy. It had to do with feeling part of something bigger and greater.

If you know of any great stories or poems about the sea, I welcome recommendations to explore.