Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Ten Years

I feel like the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks deserves saying something here.

But the fact is, I don’t know what to say. In some ways I can’t believe that only 10 years have passed. With the war, the fighting, and everything else that followed the events on that fateful day, the passage of time did sometimes seem slow. On the other hand, sometimes it feels as though the attacks just happened, that we are still in the early stages of disbelief and grief over what went on.

So I don’t know what to say. I’m saddened by the loss of life on that day and every day after for the past 10 years. I’m sorry for those still grieving. I’m grateful for those who are fighting. I hope in all our remembrances of the WTC that we also remember the attack at the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania where passengers took down another hijacked plane before it could find the intended target.

Ten years is a long time, but it’s not been long enough for us to recover, to heal. In a way, I think that it’s okay. I think we need, as a nation, to remember feeling hopeless, feeling lost. Remember how quickly we turned to God and faith. Remember how much more patiently we dealt with each other. Remember how we banded together, and really presented a united front.

I guess I just hope that we really don’t forget.

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You’re A Firework

I can’t believe I’m going to post this video. But…but…it HAS TO BE DONE! There’s no way I can let such a perfect pairing of Music Monday and Independence Day slip by unnoticed.

To make up for the inanity of the song, why don’t we take a few minutes to reflect on what some of the Founding Fathers said about this awesome nation?

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”

-John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

– Usually attributed to James Madison. Great quote though, no matter who said it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

– Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

Want to read some more cool quotes about America? There are some great ones here.

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One of my dad’s favourite composers is Tim Janis. For you PBS buffs, you’ve probably seen his specials on TV; epic, sweeping music overlaying beautiful nature scenes of America. So, for today’s MusicMonday, I thought I’d share some of his music with you!

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Never Forget

It may be nine years later, but the memories live on.

May we never forget.

Taken from the deck of a Naval battleship.

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This week on Friday Frame-Up, I thought that I’d try out something a little different. Going through my digital photo archives, I found long forgotten pictures of a baseball game from a few years ago. Two sequences caught my eye:

1. A random little boy, enthralled by the balloon clown!

It really was sweet watching the children watch the clown!

Sequence 2: Baseball+Dirt+Contacts=Humour

This was actually quite, quite funny. The first base man held up the game a good 5 minutes while the coach tried to help him adjust his contact. They tried blinking, they tried solution, they tried a new contact, but to no avail. Just when they thought that everything was good and the game could resume, back came the first base man for round two! They eventually sorted everything out, but it was quite amusing all the same.

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You Can Count On Me

I don’t know where you all live, but in my country there’s currently this thing called a “Census” going on. Every 10 years the Constitution makes provision for the government to count the people. There’s various reasons why this is good, there’s been a lot of debate recently about how this can also be bad, but you all know this blog:

I don’t really care about what others are saying concerning the Census.

There’s a good reason for this. I don’t know how the Census people are operating in your district, but in ours they are doing their work in local restaurants. Panera, Chick-fil-a, Ruby Tuesdays, and Starbucks (just to name a few) are being invaded with small teams of people determined to count up those around them. Armed with envelops, clipboards, forms, badges, and pens, these intrepid worker-bees are systematically tallying the results of their field work and pulling them together into a comprehensive account of the crazy number of people that live around me.

Besides, they are a ton of fun.

Every night we know who will be taking over the cafe. They are clean, they are quiet, they purchase drinks, they talk to us about crazy and random things. They are nice to the other regular customers, they have registered Starbucks cards , and occasionally they ask us to make up a crazy drink for them. Usually I take my breaks in the back room, but lately I’ve been taking my breaks in the cafe, learning about the Census process and getting to know these people. They can talk on any point: science, math, books, pop culture, entertainment, current events. They make me laugh.

They would have been finished two weeks ago, but thankfully they unearthed 750 addresses that were not originally put into their files. So, they’re still around and will be here for at least another week. Things have been rough at the store, and having them around makes it feel like a coffee shop again. We know their likes and dislikes, they know our areas of interest. Every time we see them it’s like a continuation of the conversation we started the last time, and when we part ways we know that the conversation will pick right back up where it left off. So thanks, Census people, for choosing our Starbucks as your headquarters. You can count on us for anything.

Oh wait, that’s right, you’ve already counted us. Well, carry on!


What A Few Weeks It’s Been!

For those of you who may have been wondering, allow me to assure you that the rumours (should there be any) of my technological death have been greatly exaggerated. I am not dead, just very busy. Unfortunately for this little blog, it has been a busyness away from the keyboard. Not that my family minds seeing my face now and then, but that does make it hard to blog.

What, you don’t believe that I’ve really been that busy? Well then, I’ll take you through a little of the past few weeks. (Actually, 11 days according to my mum. Not that anyone is counting. :))

So buckle up- it’s going to be a bit of a long ride!

Friday, 21 May 2010 Taught my last British literature session of the school year. We discussed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Murder on the Orient Express, and Elizabeth Barret Browning. There is nothing as heartwarming as seeing the look on someone’s face the first time they read the ending of Orient. I won’t give it away here, but if you’ve read it (or seen the epic movie) then you know what I mean!

Saturday, 22 May 2010 Spent the day helping my mum, her office friend, and the friend’s daughter work on small scrapbooks for the two drama teachers. I didn’t intend on spending the whole day with them, but they were so much fun I couldn’t tear myself away. They came up with some cute pages too!

Sunday, 23 May 2010 Devoted the whole day to preparing for my lecture at my university library on…

Monday, 24 May 2010 I learned about my favourite website, LibraryThing, because of the university bookclub. The thing is, I’ve far surpassed the other members in cataloging and participating with the site. So, the library dean asked if I’d give a short informative lecture to the library staff as part of a training series. I was a little rough, but it was the first time I’ve used a huge PowerPoint screen. All in all, it was fun.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010 My English club met with all the officers in the nearby downtown. Our faculty advisor hosted the meeting at her sweet little house. Afterwards, one of the officers and I went to lunch. Best. Chicken. Pita. Ever.

This was also the night of my little brother’s final concert of the year. Due to a marvelous coworker who was willing to swap shifts with me, I was able to attend. The concert was a little long (spell that veeeerrrrrryyyyyyy long), but well worth it. Besides, my friend is home from her job eight hours away and we had a chance to catch up!

Oh yes, and it was Towel Day! Do you know where your towel is?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 My Bible study class spent the last three weeks viewing “Archaeology and the Bible” DVDs, so I thought it would be neat if my archaeology professor could come speak to the class. He’s super-busy, but he made the time to come. The talk was great- 6 people from my class are interested in auditing classes with him, and I consider that an epic win. Went shopping with Mum that night, which was a ton of fun. :)

Thursday, 27 May 2010 Aforementioned club officer and I met up so she could film a short promo for our club. She did an awesome job- I’ll post the link when it’s up on the website. Then, work.

See, here’s the thing about Thursday. There’s a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that goes “It must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursday.” This about sums up my day. I woke up super late, couldn’t find the people I needed to see, was scheduled to work 2 hours sooner than I thought, and so the day goes. It was a full moon…full moon. Brings out the crazies- and messes up your day. Anyhoo….

Friday, 28 May 2010 Work again! Also, graduation day for the homeschool program my family is involved with. I helped out with the reception, which was a crazy, crazy ride. Long night, but I was really proud of all the kids who graduated.

Although, I’m not sure exactly when the cake decorator expected us to hold our graduation. Maybe they were so swamped with orders that they were hopeful that our order wasn’t to be filled until next year?

It was a great class; they really banded together well and defined “camaraderie.” Moving on!

Saturday, 29 May 2010 Graduation party for one of my students, and her colours were “Wicked” themed! The party was really fun; I hated to have to leave early, but work beckoned.

Sunday, 30 May 2010 Went to church, went to lunch, cleaned my room. Okay, not a hugely busy day, but still….

Monday, 31 May 2010 Memorial Day! Had a nice time hanging out with my family at my best friend’s house. She gave me my birthday gift tonight; The Romance of the Forest, Just Jane (about Jane Austen), and a purple “got books?” t-shirt. Does she know me or what?

That brings us the long, boring way to today. I simply hope that this convinces you, dear readers, that I’m not abandoning you! Life is crazy, but should setting down now that it’s June [insert maniacal laughter here].  I’ll be back with a more dignified and interesting blog post soon!

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The Anti-Garden Path To Insanity

I’m posting to prove to you, my dear readers, that there is a reason I’ve not been posting more often- I’ve been writing papers like this. Thank you for being so faithful to check in with me! Over the summer I hope to be a little more faithful with my posting.

This paper is based on about the only enjoyable story I read in my American literature class this session. The story is narrated by a woman who is suffering from a slight nervous breakdown, and her doctor/husband takes her and their son to a new house for the summer. Unfortunately, he chooses to put them in a room with hideous, mottled, fading, peeling yellow wallpaper. This wallpaper eventually drives her to insanity; she first imagines that there’s a woman trapped behind the design of the paper, and in the end she thinks that she is that woman attempting to escape.

There’s another angle to the story, this connection with nature that she has in the beginning slowly fades as the story progresses. It is this perspective that I look at in this paper. So, here goes:

In Charlotte Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman explores the inner workings of a woman’s mind. This is not a story of an ordinary, happy, carefree woman though. Instead, this woman is struggling with her grip on her family, health, and even her sanity. Through her decline and eventual mental breakdown, the only change in her life is in the amount of contact her husband, John, allows her to have with nature and the outside world. Thus, “The Yellow Wallpaper” exemplifies the idea that disconnection with nature facilitates a decline into insanity.

From the very beginning of the story, the woman admits to having had health issues recently. So far she, under her physician husband’s direction, has coped very well with her infirmity due to certain measures which included “air, and exercise.” Her only complaint with this method of treatment is that she wishes for a little more excitement, but overall she is content with her life and her stabilizing health. As she describes the summer home they have rented for the summer, she goes into raptures about the state of the grounds.

The most beautiful place!…It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden—long and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.

The garden is the real focal point of the house for her. She is not fond of the building itself, nor of the room that John assigns to them for next three months of living. Again, her dissatisfaction only comes out of her love for, and need to connect with, nature. The room she wanted opened out on to the rose garden, but the room John chose is on the top floor—as far from the garden as is possible.

With the room and the hideous yellow wallpaper providing an effective barrier between the woman and the garden, she finds herself growing weaker and increasingly unable to leave her room. Despite her physical weakness and the ugliness of the paper in her room, the woman still does her best to connect with the natural setting that she cherishes so much. She writes about the views from the windows:

Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deep-shaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees. Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house.

Here the reader gleans the first inkling that the woman is not going to be mentally stable for much longer. As she glances out the window to the lane, she admits to the fact that her vivid imagination is beginning to take over reality, and she fancies that she sees people walking about.

As the summer wears on, she tries to keep her tenuous grip on her connection with nature. Even into July, she is able to get out from under the spell of the mysterious and all-consuming yellow wallpaper and make it into the garden. She writes that “I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.” At the same time, her focus turns inward to the room and the wallpaper. By the middle of July she is spending hours gazing at the wallpaper, and ignoring her direct examination of nature. In fact, the only mention of natural elements comes from their attempts to make contact with her. She talks about that moonlight, and how “the moon shines in all night when there is a moon.” Even though she is not consciously attempting to connect with nature, it does its best to reach out to her.

These attempts at connection fail. The woman finds herself fixating on an unpleasant odor permeating the house, and she blames it on the natural elements she appreciated just weeks before. Too, she projects her paranoid tendencies on the natural setting; when she does look out the window at the natural settings, she sees the result of her dark fantasies:

I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.

Nature, in the woman’s mind, has turned from being an escape and a respite to being just another arena for her imagination to dominate. Nature is tainted by her dark fancies, and by all apparent signs her madness is, at this point, complete.

As a final interaction with nature and a last example of how far her mental breakdown has gone, the woman uses a plantain leaf to hide the key that locks her husband out of the house. The transformation from health to insanity is complete in her life, and her use of nature proves this. Where at the beginning of the story nature provides an escape and a link to sanity, here at the end of the story nature has become a tool to aid and abet her madness.

While it is impossible to tell if the outcome would have changed had the woman been able to maintain a healthy connection with nature, during her lucid times she seems to think that nature would help her in her illness. She seems to know instinctively that a room opening up onto the gardens would be better for her than the horrid room at the top of the house. Although she tries her best to make the most out of a horrible room and living situation, her best efforts fail. In the end, she becomes as warped as the wallpaper in the room, the antithesis of the lovely, unblemished, holistic beauty that she could once admire in nature. As distortion sets into her brain, one of her last acts of madness is to turn nature to suit her own insane purposes. Her disconnection with nature is complete, as is her lapse into insanity.

Photo of Crepe Myrtles, taken at the Botanical Gardens last summer.


Rolling Down A Beach With A Guide To the Galaxy

In my Victorian literature class last week, we discussed the end of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In the last stanza, the speaker describes the condition of the world to the woman with him, “the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams.” The speaker describes a scene of hopelessness and despair, a world where nothing is real, nothing matters, a world that has become a battleground. For the speaker, this is the end of the world, the end of all his hopes of finding a reality. Faith is withdrawing from the world, and all is a dream.

We discussed in class how this seems to be Arnold’s way of working through the changes in society at the time. Darwin’s theories of evolution and the descent of man were talking hold of the world, and Christianity was slowly beginning to disappear from the forefront of life.

Fifty years later the same subject would jump the pond and show up in the poetry of the American writer/poet Stephen Crane. In his poem “Should the Wide World Roll Away”, Crane addresses the idea of the world disappearing to leave only darkness and terror.

Should the wide world roll away,
Leaving dark terror, limitless night
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential
If thou and thy white arms were there
And the fall to doom a long way.

Like Arnold, all Crane thinks that he needs is the love of his woman- he does not need religion or a foundation if she will just hold him through it all. However, Arnold mourned the loss of faith, and hoped that it would come back. Crane acknowledges that faith is gone, but he thinks that God and faith are not essential to him.

In the 1970s, British author Douglas Adams addressed again the subject of the world dissolving away into nothingness. Where Arnold sees religion as ebbing and Crane sees it as unnecessary, Adams sees religion as a thing to mock. It does not matter what happens to the world, religion, God, or love. In fact, Adams goes so far as to talk about how God went wrong, and uses the idea of faith to “prove” that God does not exist and never has. For Adams, all you need is your towel, a portable guide to the galaxy, and improbable luck.

I really don’t have much point in posting this here, other than to show how quickly godlessness took hold in the world of literature. A scant 100 years after the first seeds of doubt about God and the Bible were planted in society, they became a weed that took over secular literature and eradicated all thought of faith.

Today we assume that “secular” means godless, religionless, faithless. This is the product of the changing times. Before 1850, it was not uncommon for secular literature to deal with religious and faith issues. As the issues seen above spread, though, the religious sphere and the secular sphere began to separate. Now, we have complete separation, but at the same time total confusion as to what matters in the world, why we are here, and what our purpose is. Unless we can unite our spheres again, the world is only going to become more and more confused, until it actually does disappear.

I’m not sure if we can do anything about this, but it is worth thinking about.

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At precisely 1:54 this morning, my entire neighbourhood lost power. Those of you readers who know me well will gasp in shock, as you realize that this is right in the middle of prime study time for me. One minute I’m happily reading tweets and looking for a blog plugin for the English club (and yes, working on an English paper), the next minute everything around me went dark.

To be honest, my first thought was “oh, Mum is making a statement about the lateness of the hour.” Then, I realized that she couldn’t have turned off the lamp beside me without me noticing her doing it. Then, my internet connection disappeared.

It’s one thing to lose power during the day. You have to keep your fridge and freezer closed, interior rooms may be a little dim, and the radio will fall silent. Really though, it’s not much of an imposition. Losing your power at night is a whole different ball game.

For one, I can’t see anything. I mean, the ENTIRE neighbourhood has no power- this includes street lamps. Two, I stupidly didn’t charge my phone for the last 48 hours, so I’m down to a sliver of battery and I need my phone to wake me up in the morning. Thankfully, I did charge my iPod so it’s my portable lighting device. As for my laptop- well, I obviously don’t have internet, but I’m on powersaver and typing this right now. I’m good to go for another hour or two.

This whole incident is just bringing home how much we rely on things that most people don’t even have. It’s automatic to walk into a dark room and reach for the light switch. You expect that when you open the fridge, a little light will pop on. When I turn on my iPod, I expect to see my wifi signal. When I plug in my phone, I expect it to charge. When we look outside, we expect to see the porch lights on the neighbour’s houses.

However, right now in Haiti, there are people simply wondering if their house is still standing, if their neighbours are still alive, and if they will be able to find any sort of food. Bodies are being discovered with sickening regularity, each body representing not only a life lost, but also a family destroyed. I’m sure that they aren’t worrying about charging their cellphones, or surfing the web on their iPods. I’m sure that all they want is their family and friends to be alive, and to know where to find food, clothing, and shelter.

My house is still structurally unchanged- even my alarm system is still set thanks to back-up batteries. I have plenty of food and water in my fridge and garage. My family is all around me, safely tucked into their beds. My phone may be low on power, but there are two more in the house all ready to go. Despite my lack of internet, I’m still sitting here typing away on my laptop.

You know, I think that I’m pretty lucky. Because, when you look at your life in the big, world picture, you come to realize that every frustration and setback is nothing when compared with the suffering of others. So instead of mourning my lost study time, I’m going to shut this computer off, get into bed, pray for the people of Haiti, and thank God that all I have to worry about is a low cellphone battery.

It’s really not so bad being powerless.