Miss Woodhouse's Musings

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

Goals

Gentle Readers,

My goal for this month is to try and blog something every day. We will see how this goes!

January was a fairly uneventful month, a welcome relief after the craziness of the holidays. This is the first year our family did not go to The Land Of No Internet, so the first year that I worked all through the holiday season.

Oh. Em. Gee. In case you didn’t know, people are craaaazaaay around the holidays. They are so stressed out that they don’t know up from down, right from left, in from out…and since I work in customer service it is all my fault. Thankfully our awesome regulars made the crazies seem less daunting, and we all survived.

My Brit Lit class just ended their Pepys diary assignments, which is what gave me the inspiration to start blogging again. Even with all the social media around…Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, oh my…they still struggled to write down a daily recap of their day. Samuel Pepys is famous for his diary, for his general, informal, everyday observations on life. From the coronation of a king, to the great fire of London, to a day spent with friends, Pepys recorded it all. He didn’t know how important his writings would be to world, but we are grateful for them to this day. So, who knows? Maybe one of my students will end up being the Pepys of this generation…or maybe not. Either way, recording life is rarely a waste.

Until tomorrow,

Miss W

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Romance Or Something Like It

It’s rare that my classes fall on a holiday, so I was so excited last night when I realized that not only was my British Literature class meeting on Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t have to report for jury duty!!! This meant I was free to deviate from our study on the Romantics (which aren’t as romantic as the title would have you believe…but that’s a post for another time) and give the kids a whirlwind tour of how England’s famous writers created the Hallmark company. Erm, excuse me. I meant to say “Valentine’s Day.” Same diff?

So, we all have the basic idea that Valentine was some sort of martyr/saint/good guy, right? What you may not know is that there are actually *three* Valentines in the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia (yes, there is such a thing): one from Rome, one from Terni, and one from Africa. Their lives had nothing at all to do with love, romance, poetry, or hearts (except for the fact that theirs stopped beating because of their faith in God and their dedication to the gospel). In fact, there’s absolutely no reason why Chaucer, while writing a poem to commemorate the engagement of Richard II, would reference Valentine…but he did so.

It’s actually a lovely little poem called The Parliament of Fowls that I enjoy reading very much. It’s also 5 hundred million or so lines long, so I’ll just post some pertinent stanzas.

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,

Of every species that men know, I say,

And then so huge a crowd did they make,

That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake

Was so full, that there was scarcely space

For me to stand, so full was all the place.

Saint Valentine, who art full high aloft –

Thus sing the small fowls for your sake –

Now welcome summer, with your sun soft,

That this winter’s weather does off-shake.

 

Well have they cause to rejoice full oft,

Since each a marriage with its mate does make;

Full joyous may they sing when they wake;

Now welcome summer, with your sun soft,

That this wintry weather does off-shake,

And the long nights’ black away does take.’

 

And with the cries, when their song was done,

That the fowls made as they flew away,

I woke, and other books to read upon

I then took up, and still I read always;

I hope in truth to read something someday

Such that I dream what brings me better fare,

And thus my time from reading I’ll not spare.

The rest of the poem is a bunch of birds talking to each other about love and classic pairs of lovers. As one of my students said, it’s like Narnia. If you have the time, Norton has a lovely rendition online in the Middle English. Delightful!

The next major writer to start a Valentine’s tradition is Edmund Spenser, writer of The Faerie Queen. Do you know what he started? Here’s a quote to give you a hint:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

Did you figure it out? Oh yes, the much maligned “roses are red, violets are blue” verse! I’m as big a fan of plays on this as the next person, so it made me laugh when the lovey Ponderiss shared “Roses are red, violets are blueish. If it weren’t for Christmas, we’d all be Jewish.” I laughed for a good 5 minutes over that one.

Shakespeare? He didn’t neglect the fad either. In his famous Ophelia scenes (where she runs in and out of court singing songs, throwing around flowers, and generally running mad), she sings a Valentine’s Day song!

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

England continued on in this same vein for the next several hundred years, making them one of the most dedicated countries when it comes to this holiday. Did you know that in the 1700’s they even had Valentine factories??? Whole factories that churned out nothing but ornate, flowery Valentines. It’s a pretty cool idea.

So, there you have it! A whirlwind tour through the beginnings of Valentine’s Day! What did you do to celebrate this year?

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A Thanksgiving Memory

Challenge: In class, we had to write a Thanksgiving memory in 2 minutes, highlighting the use of one sense.

It is not the bright sun that wakes me up early in the morning on Thanksgiving – no, it is the seductive scent of freshly roasting turkey which drifts up the stairs and gets me stirring. In the kitchen, I can hear my father at work, puttering around, opening the oven to baste the bird and letting loose more aromatics. Going into the kitchen, the smell of turkey mixes with the lemon scent of the sink, all freshly scrubbed and waiting for the onslaught of cooking. The stovetop pan bubbles with a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and apple juice, making a welcoming cider for the impending guests.

Your turn! In the comments, why don’t you share a quick Thanksgiving memory with us? I’d love to read it!

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50000 in 30 (Or How To Be Insane)

Well, it’s November 1st! Do you know what that means? No, I’m not referring to having a sugar hangover from last night. I’m talking about NaNoWriMo!!!! National Novel Writing Month, where all over the world crazy wanna-be writers like me try to discipline themselves to get 50,000 words on paper before the month runs out. Add in the Thanksgiving holiday, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity…I mean fun.

So, I’m giving this a try again. Last year I fell far short of the 50,000 word mark, so my goal is to surpass last year at the least. Stay tuned for progress reports, or feel free to jump on in! It’s never too late.

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NaNoWriMo

So, you may have noticed those cute, colourful little buttons on my sidebar. It’s now time to explain what there are and why there are there!

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. In November, aspiring writers from all over the world strive to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, resulting in a “complete” novel. The focus is on quantity, not quality. Too often writers get bogged down in the details of their writing, get too involved with the characters and the plot. The result is a shelf full of notebooks half-filled with remnants of stories. The goal with NaNoWriMo is to get out a raw outline, raw situations, and a decent conclusion. Chances are that your novel is going to end up being more than 50,000 words, but it’s a really good start.

Yes, I’m crazy, but I’m giving it a shot.

Wanna join in the literary insanity? You can add me as a writing buddy: MsWoodhouse.

Have fun…

Ready…set…type!!!!!

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Temper Tantrums

If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen- don’t just make the kitchen “invitation only”.

As a blogger, you open yourself up to encouragement and praise, but you also make yourself a target for criticism and critique. I write each and every post with the nagging mindset that anyone can read this. So far, my readers have been wonderfully encouraging but I know that I may have critics at some point.

Thus, I’m careful not to write anything that I am annoyingly passionate about, and nothing deeply personal. That’s just setting yourself up to feel hurt and abused.

I follow about 50+  blogs; some are corporately minded, some are photo blogs, and some are a mere whisper away from a tell-all private diary. In one of those diary blogs, this young person spilled their guts (yet again) about their “newfound” purpose in life. By doing so, they completely put down their current vocation in a harsh and hurtful manner. It was completely unprofessional.

In the comments, one of the blogger’s readers called them out on the hurtfulness and immaturity of their post. This commenter was firm, but very kind in their rebuke. They said only what needed to be said and nothing more. They ended by telling the blogger that they loved them.

Before the end of the week, this blog became “invitation only”. Hmmmm.

Coincidence? I think not.

I understand that criticism hurts. I get that when you are flush in your newfound “calling in life”, then the last thing you want is for someone to pull you up short. But, listen to your readers. This commenter is a personal friend of the blogger; they’ve known each other for some time. If your friends are telling you that you’re not living up to your goal in life, then maybe that should be a wakeup call to take a step back and assess where you are. It’s not a call to get defensive and block all but a choice few readers.

So like I said before- if you can’t stand the heat, stop blogging now. You’ll only save yourself a world of hurt and pain. The world isn’t going to get kinder. People aren’t going to become more tolerant of your dreamy-eyed ideals. It’s happened once, it can happen again. It’s time to face the music, accept the comment, and move on.

Ironically, this blew up into a bigger deal than it had to be. To gracefully acknowledge the comment and move on with the blog would have been the mature decision; in a few days, the whole situation would have blown over. Instead, every time I see a link to the now-private blog, that situation comes leaping to mind. It was a bad call, if I’m being honest.

It’s never healthy to surround yourself with “yes” people. We all know the type: any question you ask them, they tell you what you want to hear. “Does this chartreuse and grey zig-zag striped dress suit me?” “Yes!” “Did you enjoy my apricot and tomato risotto?” “Yes!” “Should I quit school to join the circus?” “Yes!

See? It’s just not healthy.

So, there are a few lessons to be learned:

  1. Accept constructive criticism. Not that I think you should change everything about yourself because one person thinks you should; use common sense. However, most of us could do with a bit of improvement, so be open.
  2. Don’t post deeply personal thoughts online. No matter how much you may want to share your epiphany, don’t just spew out your latest thoughts. You are much more likely to react emotionally to a negative comment.
  3. Just be smart. Don’t be the kind of person where “no thought goes unpublished.” Wait, think, then act.

That’s all.

Comments? Compliments? Criticisms? Leave them on the link to the left!

Wee bit of housekeeping here. Sorry for the third blog design in a month; I promise that this one will stick around for a while. I’ve been waiting almost a year for a design like this: readable, light, and girly without being “too much.”

A few things moved around, but it should be straightforward. Don’t forget; if you want a nice little email when I post, just put it under “Be In the Know” and hit submit (look up and right!). I’ll make sure that you are kept in the loop!

–MissW

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Facade

Confession time: it’s been years since I’ve written proper poetry.

By proper, I mean poetry that has rhyme, rhythm, and form; poetry that expresses feelings in roundabout and new ways.

Let’s face it: good poetry takes time. I haven’t that much time.

Good poetry takes life experience and inspiration. Want to read a poem about a frazzled barista? Didn’t think so.

However, I do write free-form poetry sometimes. Often, it’s spur-of-the-moment; I have a thought, I jot it down. Thus, when I discover it a few months later, I’ve no memory of actually writing the piece.

Except, it’s not good enough for anyone else to have written it. Ergo, it must be mine!

I’m not sure, then, what prompted me to write this piece. Maybe it was the stress of work, maybe not liking what path school was forcing me to take, maybe frustrations with my friends. Whatever the case, I apparently was trying to deck myself upside the head and tell myself to get a grip!

I think it worked.

Lately, I’ve been a lot more honest with myself. When I’m upset, I tell myself I’m upset. When I’m happy about something, I’m trying to let myself be happy. Basically, I’m a little afraid that life is flying by, and that I’m missing it by always trying to act a certain way, do certain things, be a certain type of person.

This also must be from last Fall, because there are a lot of Shakespearian sonnet references in this. Just saying….

Oh! Bonus points if you can find the Shakespeare influences! Leave your guesses in the comments.

Anyway, I’ll be very open here and *gasp* share this little glimpse into my past. Just please, please, be gentle with me!

When the façade slips

When you see me as I truly am

Sad, scared, seeking approval

Too long-sought, too hardly won.

Never finding rest

Peace.

Fleeing from myself

If I don’t like me, why should you?

I’m just a player in this

Game of chance that we call

Life.

Moved by the force of others

A ball knocked from the wicket gate

By the turn of another.

Influenced by none

Guided by all.

Who am I?

The daughter, sister, worker, friend?

Or something deeper-

Am I myself? If so

This is hidden too well

A secret guarded by

A wall of sorts

A wall of right

A wall of will

A wall of acting

A façade.

Who I am lies beneath

Ready for you to see me

As I am

If I ever let the façade

Slip.

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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.

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Nothing That Is Not There

Warning: this post contains the musings of a university English major. Read at your own mental risk! :) –Miss Woodhouse

For the few of you out there who do not yet know about my feelings towards American Literature, I have some very strong ones: I don’t like American Literature. I’m currently taking an American Lit class only because I would LOVE to graduate sometime this century.

Nonetheless, I believe in giving everything your best effort as much as you can. So, let it come as a little shock when I say that reading the poetry this week was almost bearable. Almost.

I found myself somewhat taken with a poet I have not ever read, Wallace Stevens. In particular, I really enjoyed his poem entitled “The Snow Man.” I’ve reprinted it here for your reading pleasure:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place.

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

This last stanza really captured my attention. The poem, though nicely balanced and arranged, is somewhat bleak. The landscape described is blank, desolate, frozen, and harsh (did you notice how Stevens used the words “crusted”, “shagged”, and “rough” to hint at harshness without coming out and using the word?).

The speaker in the poem reveals how he is looking at the world- not only is it harsh, but he hears mournfulness and misery in the sound of the winter wind. For some reason, these thoughts displease him, and he yearns to think like a snowman. In his mind, the snowman can see things as they truly are without the bias of human presumptions. Everything leads up to that final line as the speaker declares that since the snowman is himself nothing he can see the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

It doesn’t seem to bother the speaker (as it bothers me) that in looking to the snowman for an unbiased view of the world, the speaker is effectively placing his own bias on what he imagines the snowman to see. In reality, the speaker can find nothing worthwhile in the world around him, and the snowman becomes merely a vehicle by which the speaker can justify and rationalize the perception of meaningless life.

Life may be nothing, but for the speaker, nothingness must actually exist. If nothingness is not real and tangible, then the speaker realizes that he is most likely missing out on something huge in life. This appears to scare the speaker, thus he chronicles his winter quest to justify (ironically) the existence and purpose of nothingness. He creates this blank landscape, finds a blank “mind”, and creates a situation where nothing actually exists. He thinks that this will make him happy, that if he can achieve this goal he will no longer hear mournful wind and see harsh landscapes. Everything becomes nothing, and nothing is everything. The only problem is that this world that the speaker creates is quite…well, depressing.

So, I’ve shared how I read and interpret this poem. Why don’t you all take a moment or two to jot down in the comments what you see in the poem? I promise to respond!

Thanks to this transcript of All Things Considered for affirming that my interpretation is not completely off the wall!

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Everybody’s Looking For Something

WordPress allows me to see what search terms people use to find my blog. Some of these people are very dedicated to their search- I’m not usually found until the 40-50th search page. So, if you’ve found my blog by searching for something else, welcome!

Being the nice person I am, I thought that I’d share these terms with you (along with my pithy comments). Points if you can figure out what post the terms used took the searcher to- just leave your guesses in the comments! (for example, does anyone remember my Wipeout post?)

Here we go:

“tea towel whipping sound barrier”– I love tea, like any good hitchhiker I know where my towel is, I’m really good at whipping cream for drinks, I love the sound of music (both the movie and the literal sound), and I believe in breaking down barriers in every situation. I can’t imagine any other way those words can logically relate to each other. I mean, tea towels breaking the sound barrier? Really? Maybe on the back of a supersonic jet they might.(What’s scary is that at the time of writing this, I hit the first page on search results.Man.)

“woodhouse math guy”– Hey, that’s funny! Seriously guys, I’m good at many things but math is not one of them. Sorry. I’m also a girl, just to make that clear.

“an extra stanza to love story taylor swift” – No way I’m giving up the extra stanza to Love Story! Taylor expects me to keep her secrets, and this is one of them. You have to find your own extra stanza. So there.

“miss woodhouse” – This one makes sense; you Google Miss Woodhouse, you get me. Yay!

“dog” – Yup, I have two of them at the house. Glad you asked!

“it isn´t any trouble just to smile” – I love this song- it comes in handy to annoy people who are being very grumpy. It might not have been the best blog title idea though….

“road to hana funny” – I knew that oblique reference to the scariest road in the world would pay off somehow. (Many bonus points if you know the post to which this refers!)

“get off the grid” – Wow, that sounds so much more threatening then I meant for it to. Oh, and by the way, apparently this can also refer to going green. That’s not how I meant it. At. All.

“”wipeout” -hd -psp -pulse -pure –surfing”– I don’t know what I’m in more awe of- the fact that someone was searching for wipeout, or the number or terms they didn’t want included in the search. Wow.

“can you activate a starbucks gold card” – Yes, you could. By purchasing one. Last year. When they were selling the card. Now, you are out of luck. You can register a Starbucks card to enter the new rewards program though!

“in your darkest dreams, by emma woodhouse” – Did I mention that I was thinking about a little foray into thriller fiction? No? Oh well, all I have is the title so far… could someone Google me a plotline?

“don’t think that ever before” – …before what? The suspense is killing me!

“holiday rush sarcasm” – I googled this myself after it showed up on my search terms. For that day, I was the third hit for this search. Apparently I’m sarcastic. Really, you think? Who knew?

http://www.misswoodhousemusings.wordpress.com” – It’s http://, with no www. Just so you know.

“happy anniversary” – Awwww, thanks! What are we celebrating again?

“john the instigator” – Well, at least I’m not the one stirring up trouble this time. Thanks for taking the heat, John!

“it isn’t any trouble”– Hmph. That’s what you think.

“smile. it isn’t any trouble”– Sir, yes sir!

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