Sunday, June 29, 2014

Decluttering

We're slowly decluttering our home, focusing on a different part of the house (a closet, a bookshelf, etc.) every weekend. Yesterday we cleared out Ed's electronics closet, which was practically archaeological; nearly everything got thrown out, including a plethora of wires whose uses were unknown, or for electronics that Ed no longer had. And in some cases, the electronics themselves were horrendously out of date, like the old digital camera that has fewer megapixels than our cell phone cameras. Digital cameras are relatively inexpensive now that if we wanted one - I wouldn't be averse to buying a more up-to-date model at some point - it wouldn't break the bank, and the technology would be a lot better than any of the three or four digital cameras we've gotten rid of in the past year. We also got rid of a scanner, hard drives, floppies, CDs with games and other software (all of which can be downloaded), manuals for hardware that hasn't been owned in years, and other equipment that simply won't or can't be used.

There's a lot of space in that closet, now.

A few weeks ago we went through Ed's walk-in closet, and eliminated at least 2/3 of the clothing he hadn't worn since before we got together - sweatshirts from college, an almost 20-year-old leather jacket that hasn't been worn (and that hasn't fit) in more than 10 years, etc. It can be difficult to throw these things out or donate them, but if an item hasn't been worn or used in a certain amount of time, out it goes.

Ed has more elements of packrat-ism than I have and I think has more difficulty going through things and cleaning things out; it seems to take more out of him than my cleaning out my own belongings does for me (to be fair, I have trouble getting rid of books), so taking one part of the house at a time makes things manageable.

I don't like owning things for the sake of owning them; I prefer simplicity, experience over ownership of things. If something has actual value, has use, or is an heirloom, that's one thing, otherwise out it goes. Even then, there's a fine line.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Expectations

A friend posed an interesting (and I hope theoretical) question recently: "'Expectations ruin relationships,'" she said. "What do you think?" I replied that I think that's ridiculous. (Actually, I used the word "hooey.") I said that I think unrealistic expectations ruin relationships, but that how one defines "unrealistic" varies from relationship to relationship.

I expect my husband to be honest with me, to treat me kindly and with respect, to take an interest in and support me and what I do, both personally and professionally. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I expect him to come home from work every night at around the same time. I expect him to share his day with me, share concerns with me, tell me what's on his mind, tell me before he makes a major purchase. I expect him to treat my family with the same level of love, kindness, and respect that he treats me, and to visit them with me when it's reasonable to do so - not to avoid or evade my family. I expect him to support me in raising a child, if we're ever so lucky to have one, to help me raise that child as a (good) Catholic, to educate that child. I do not expect my husband to work more than 40 hours a week, or search for a job that would pay him six figures.* I would not consider it reasonable to allow him to denigrate me, my family or friends, my beliefs, or my career, publicly or privately, regardless of the circumstance. Those would be unreasonable expectations. I expect him to be as a good a man as he is capable.

I suspect my husband has similar expectations of me.

For us, these are reasonable expectations; they may be unreasonable for other couples or people in different relationships or in other situations or at other times. (I have slightly different expectations of my friends, of my parents, of my brother, of my extended family, but my expectations are similar.) If my husband were still flying, or if he had a job or other obligations that kept him away from home, a sick parent he had to care for in another state, I might see him less. Those situations might also be reasonable; I would have to judge whether I was willing to marry someone who was away from home as often (or more often) than not.

I don't think having expectations ruins the relationship; I think they can strengthen the relationship - if the expectations are reasonable. The tricky part is defining "reasonable."
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* I don't think my husband would expect this of me, either. I do not have a career that is likely to pay me that type of salary - no one goes into teaching for the money - nor do I have an aptitude for jobs that tend to pay that. We also live in a part of the country where salaries tend to be lower - not bad, just lower. There are tradeoffs, such as being able to afford a nice house with a yard in good neighborhoods. We can pay more money for less house, and afford to retire. That's worth more to us than earning two or three times as much.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Week Five: Agents of Change

Several years ago, I came across a video podcast in which Rick Steves discussed the ways in which travel is a political act. (I hadn't known that his talk was based on his book Travel as a Political Act.) This particular talk was part of a video podcast lecture series that included lectures on travel skills, a lecture on Italy, and a lecture on Iran.


Until I watched his talk, my exposure to Steves had been limited to an awareness of his travel guidebooks (none of which I believe I have bought) and his show, which airs in my area on a PBS affiliates. I found him to be a good speaker and his talk interesting because he emphasized that the foundation of travel is one in which the traveler interacts, as much as possible, with the people who live in the area that is being traveled to. Steves discusses the ways in which travel shaped his politics and broadened his perspectives.

A novel concept to be sure, given that some critics and their theories indicate that travel writers are of a predominantly imperial mindset, that travel writing is almost insidiousness in its inability to present the truth, and that travel narratives “cannot be verified, hence the ready and habitual equation of traveller and liar" (Clark 1). Charging all travel writers with imperialism presupposes that all travel writers come from imperial or colonial backgrounds, or that they see the world through an imperial lens; I cannot believe that all travel writing is the result of imperial conquest. This is cynical and, I believe, the result of imperial thinking itself in presuming that others must come from a comparable background and view other people through a similar lens. 

Steves' talk had resonated with me the first time I saw it, and it does so even more now that I have read travel writing theory and applications. An "agent of change" requires being communicative; it requires an ability to simply talk to people, and negates any potential behind imperialism because it exposes the traveler to different politics.


Being an agent of change can simply be the cause and result of being kind, friendly, and open. Being an agent of change does not need to include elaborate actions; the sacrifice and immersion to which Novograt refers does not have to result in moving to an African country or founding an organization; it can be looking for small acts domestically, but it does start with educating oneself to see what the possibilities are. It can start with educating yourself and learning about the history behind where you're visiting, and realizing how nuanced history is. King discusses some of the history behind slavery in Barbados. While she examines some of the imperialism behind the history, this does not imply that her motivations are imperial, yet her blog posts are indicative of some of the ways in which history is chaotic. In this case, Lisle is correct in asserting that "travel writing provides an opportunity to escape the forces of modernity and globalisation and retreat back into a Golden Age of discovery, exploration and Empire" (204); Barbados - and indeed many other countries - have a history that includes being overthrown, the inhabitants raped, killed, dispersed, their lands taken, their language and culture destroyed. 

And it can cause us to simply share our traveling experiences and our own histories. A recent conversation on which I was admittedly only the edges led to a discussion of some of the colonizing of India and Ireland by the British. The person with whom I and another person were speaking did not know some of the extent to which Britain had acted. His position was that Britain had done quite a bit to help modernize India, what with paving roads, etc., but the third person in our party was able to contextualize to what degree the British government had destroyed and impoverished the native people, their lands, their culture. Simple education leads to being introduced to histories of other people and of other places, which expands our thinking, which causes us to rethink our beliefs and convictions, to understand the damage that can be done - it causes us to rethink.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Summer and Fall Reading List

I'm taking four graduate classes this summer, after which I'll have only two more classes to take before I graduate. (It seems to take me several tries to make it through a degree program.)

Over the course of the summer, I'll be taking:
  1. ENG 522: Rhetoric and Writing in Professional Communities (professional writing elective; no textbook assigned: all readings are on BlackBoard)
  2. ENG 538: Cross-Cultural Aspects of Language Learning (linguistics elective; no textbook assigned: all readings are on BlackBoard)
  3. ENG 570: Introduction to Multimedia Design (core requirement; textbook: Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects)
  4. ENG 599: Rhetorics of Travel Writing (core requirement); no textbook was assigned, but which includes readings from blogs, excerpts from various books, and the occasional video 
The start and end dates are all over the place, so it's a bit difficult to keep everything straight. ENG 599 is the most convenient, since it a four-week class that's held when no other classes are meeting; it began mid-May. The two electives are eight-week classes that started today and end August 5th, while ENG 570 is another four-week class that began today, but ends in early July. June's going to be a busy month.

I'll have two more classes to take after the summer, one of which I'll be taking in the fall: A seven-week class that begins in late October, ENG 610 (Autobiographical Literacies) is a course requirement, and there's some interesting-looking reading involved:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week Four: Divergence

Stories about the same group of people or the same country diverge in all sorts of interesting ways. Newby includes excerpts from a variety of travelers whose explorations of (in this case) North America include encounters with unknown landscapes, animals, Native Americans, and "the white man" (432-4), and includes more contemporary Anglo-American perspectives, including those in the 19th century that offer advice as to how to live well on the eastern seaboard at the turn of the last century (429-30), and a description of New York City in the 1940s (437-8). What's interesting about these multiple perspectives is the way in which different authors focus on different aspects of the same landscape.

Divergence is central to these literary interpretations; different writers focus on different aspects of the same culture based on their own experiences, although bias and prejudice would color their points of view, too, based on experience. (This is sometimes frustratingly circular; bad experiences lead to bias, which can lead to further bad experiences.) Columbus' Eurocentric views of religious conversion are central to his narrative, and as a means of demonstrating friendship, he provides what are (to his mind) snazzy clothing (383-4). Similarly, Cartier's sixteenth-century descriptions include a dismissive attitude towards Native American theology, and include descriptions of the apparently hearty disposition of the Hurons (385-7). These stories are not necessarily dissimilar; rather, they include multiple narratives that could be seen as confirming a stereotype. Cartier's narrative especially has almost a tone of an outsider with his descriptions of indifference to cold and "very bad customs" of placing the daughters in the tribe, when they reach a certain age, into a brothel. Of course, these are just two examples, and not necessarily fully representative of what we might consider an ignorant mindset.

If these travel accounts were written today, I would consider them a form of willful misunderstanding, and would I not consider any one example more authoritative than another. I would not ignore these narratives, though, either, because they provide insight into a Eurocentric mindset such that we could analyze how travelers and their writings have changed. Perhaps they're as important to the growth of travel writing as a genre because they allow us to compare how our attitudes have shifted towards different cultures; I've come to think of early travel writing as foundational. We "listen" to whatever stories are interesting to us and use them as a source of comparison to develop our own opinions about another country. These multiple stories fill in the gaps and offer different perspectives that we might not have otherwise considered.

More recently, stories from journalists who cover war-torn areas add a different dimension of understanding that we miss if we limit ourselves to news sources or more typical investigative journalism. Chilson's “The Border” is a good example of one journalist whose article examines movable borders, both geographical and cultural, while incorporating multiple viewpoints from those on different sides of the war in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. In this case, authority is tied to Chilson's credibility; multiple attitudes are prevalent throughout the piece, leading to a deeper understanding of the complexities of the trying to negotiate multiple types of boundaries.

Authority can be misleading, though: Credibility can be suspect, and can be culturally defined in terms of both geography and history. Definitions of what women are capable of, for example, has changed, but remains culturally inconsistent. Schribner provides examples of the ways in which women traveling was considered dangerous, with the potential of wreaking domestic havoc, a danger to social structure, order, and system (27). Clearly, women were seen as delicate creatures who needed the protection of men. In western cultures, and in many eastern cultures, this thinking is now suspect and not credible (dare I say incredible). When I hear stories that indicate that women are to be protected, under a man's care, that women should not have educations or be allowed to drive, I am exasperated. I belittle this line of thinking in the same way I might have been belittled a century ago.

The story that we truly listen to is the one that resonates, or is one that comes from a person with whom we feel connected. I wish I had been a bit braver in talking to the native Icelanders in whose midst I spent nearly three weeks last summer. The waiter who taught me how to pronounce "Eyjafjallajökull" was very funny and very friendly; Sigurbjörg, the woman who led my husband and me on an elf tour in Hafnarfjördur was also very friendly and obliged me by answering my (probably ridiculous) questions. Sigurbjörg was authoritative on Icelandic elf culture, and it was a wonderful insight into Icelandic fairy culture. (Ireland has a similarly strong fairy and fairytale culture, and since I grew up being told Irish fairytales, going on this elf tour appealed to me.)


(The above picture is of a troll rock - the troll was turned to rock when the sun came out - at Hellisgerdi Park on the Hidden World Walk tour. If you look carefully, you can see a big forehead and a nose; the face points to the left.) 

Something about first-hand insider accounts lend credence and authority. In this particular case, I was able to relate Icelandic culture to my own heritage, and allowed me to briefly connect to another culture.