Sunday, June 1, 2014

Saturday Summary: Weeks 10 and 11

Yay, the semester is over and classes are all done! The only thing I have left to do now are my final assignments and then I can officially say that I am half-way through my course. That is such a terrifying thought; I have already been at uni for half of the amount of time I need to complete my course. I could have sworn I was only a first year a few months ago and now I'm already half way through my second year! Of course, once I finish my bachelor degree, I want to go on to further studies and go on to do my honours or something like that, but still!

So I decided to do the summery for two the last two weeks together. Here we go.

Fiction Writing: Story, Structure, and Starting Out
Readings: Workshop pieces. Open forms of narrative and The salt of broken tears by Michael Meehan, Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood, Videotape by Don DeLillo, My life with the wave by Octavio Paz, The sprouting month  and The clothes-lining month by Ruth Ozeki, and (Favoured by) babies by T Richards.

Week 10 was spent doing our final rounds of workshopping our classmates' work, then in week 11 we discussed open forms of narrative. Our theory reading talked about how in good literature, the reader ends up wanting to go back and re-read, the final line of the story drives them back to the first line, and the reader is often aware that they are missing a deeper meaning to the text upon the first reading. I can easily relate to this last point. I've lost count of the number of times I've been reading something and thought to myself, There's something in here that I'm not picking up on, and it won't be until I go back and read again that I realise what it was. With every re-reading, a reader comes away with more meaning than they had on previous readings. The meaning will also be different for each individual because of the different ways we understand and interpret what we read, and the reading will be different for the same individual as they re-read at different points in their lives, depending on how their interpretation and understanding changes. We also talked a lot about the creative process, but I would like to make a separate blog post about that.

Poetry: Making it Strange
Readings: Ratbaggery editorial by Duncan Hose (my tutor).

Week 10 focused on ratbag poetry. Ratbag poets are poets who write about other people. They are gossips with an ideal for change. These poems can be callus, rude, direct, naming names and creating caricatures of the people they are talking about. Their purpose, as with all forms of poetry, is to manipulate the reader's feelings, though in this particular case they specifically want you to form a certain opinion about whoever they are talking about.

Week 11 seemed to lean back towards the Australian contemporary poetry, focusing on 'outcrop: contemporary poetry of country'. There were not set readings for the week and I think we spent more time talking about our final assignment and workshopping more than anything else. The two things I jotted down in the good ol' notebook were:
- the only cure for boredom is curiosity, and
- use nouns as verbs.

It has been an interesting and exciting class, though sometimes hard to know if we covered what we were meant to cover. I definitely enjoyed myself.

Literature for Children and Young Adults
Readings: Freedom Writers (Richard LaGravenese, 2007). Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.

I loved the film Freedom Writers, though I could see its flaws even while I was watching and enjoying it. Film is one of the most influential mediums in the world and a vehicle for constructing, negotiating, and resisting dominant ideas. However, while on the surface, a film like Freedom Writers might seem to uphold values such as acceptance of differences (particularly, race in this case), and treating teenagers like adults, some of the passive ideologies that come through aren't so flattering. I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge that while F.W is based on true events, it is not a 100% accurate representation of the characters and what happened, so these criticisms are directed at the film, not the true story. F.W. upholds the 'white hero' stereotype, as if the minority races are unable to help themselves and better their own lives. Speaking of the minority races bettering their own lives, there's another negative stigma; all of the minorities represented in the film are lower/working class with pretty messed-up lives and gang involvement, while the white characters are all upper/middle class with lives that don't seem so bad. Of course there are exceptions, like the main adult-teacher character, Erin Gruwell, who's husband gets all shitty at her for not asking him before she gets a second job and isn't very supportive of her trying to help the kids and ends up leaving her (he was more than a little sexist). Also, casting! Gotta LOVE how all of the white characters scored well-known actors, while the minority roles don't get any big-names. So, is Freedom Writers supposed to be about the students, or about the teacher? Because from the sounds it of, it SHOULD be more about the students, but after watching it, it seems much more centered around the teacher, Mrs Gruwell. I mean, it's not that I don't think Erin Gruwell deserves the credit or recognition for what she did in real life, but I think making the white character the star of the show kind of defeats the purpose.

I'll stop myself there before I rant forever, because there is a lot of stuff to pick at, but that's the worst of it. We studied Twilight in week 11 as our module of popular fiction for young adults. Twilight was HUGE, and not just within the young adult audience. I remember when it was about to be a movie, for Christmas that year, I wanted the books for Christmas so that I could read them ahead of all the other movies. It ended up that I had a box set of the books for myself, my little sister got a box set for herself, and my mum got a box set for herself. So, there were three copies of every book in my house. My mum was the most passionate about them, not myself (who read and enjoyed them at the time, but didn't think they were mindblowing or anything), or my little sister, who I don't think actually ended up reading them, although it was me and my sister they should have appealed to most as far as target audiences went. As I started re-reading the first book for class, I wanted to be sick. I'm actually not sure how I liked these books at all when I was thirteen and now I'm kind of ashamed of myself and everyone around me who put so much as a toe on that bandwagon. In short, Bella is a really flat character and ridiculously damsel-in-distress, especially when it comes to guys. The book condones girls pining after men and putting themselves in dangerous situations in attempts to get their attention and/or please them. Edward is actually a real ... I'm not going to use that word here, but to put it nicely, he's a condescending, domineering, jerk-face. Also, he's a stalker. Like wtf he sneaks into her house and watches her sleep, that is not okay! This book enforces outdated ideologies such as that women should be obedient to men, that men are allowed to be dismissive and generally treat girls like shit, and don't get me started on the virginity metaphor. On the outside, Twilight is a typical though poorly written paranormal romance that attempts to reinvent the gothic novel, and while the virginity thing is outdated I won't knock it too hard because that's a matter of personal choice (though Meyer is crafty and deceptive in the way she disguises its presence), but overall it sets a really dangerous example for young adult readers as far as what they should expect from love and relationships goes. And I was officially sick about Bella going on about how physically beautiful the Cullens were by the end of the third chapter. There's the other thing, Bella with no self esteem and poor self-image, then BAM it's all starting to get better once she's got a boyfriend (not to mention when they get married in the last book and she gets to be a vampire too... sparkle sparkle motherfuckers!). Seriously, could Stephanie Meyer give girls a worse role model?

We interrupt this blog post for Twilight movie sins.

I'm going to shut up before the Twihards come to get me.

Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Essay
Readings: Workshop pieces.

Workshopping aside, we went over some last minute pointers to help us with our final assignment. When writing about true stories, we need to be mindful of how we compress and expand characters and events, whether or not our choices are ethical and whether or not they help get across the messages we intend the reader to receive. It is often appropriate to conduct further research and incorporate necessary information in order for the reader to get the best understanding of the situation you are writing about as possible, and who knows, maybe that research will influence the way you end up writing. Don't be afraid to experiment with the story's structure, and turn the structure into meaning. Also, Margaret McKenzie's Australian Handbook for Writers and Editors is a good resource... well, for Australian writers anyway. Use correct punctuation, etc...

The job of the writer is to make connections between things that people would not normally make connections between. Good class, loved my teacher and my class mates.

So! This concludes Saturday Summaries, at least for this semester. I hope my ramblings have imparted something or other that I've learned in the past 11 weeks to the blogosphere's population. Now, off with me to do my assignments.

Do you find more meaning in a text the second time you read it? What kind of a poet would you be? Will you flay me for knocking Twilight or do I have your permission to continue living? Have you ever written a personal essay? 

- Bonnee.


  1. "sparkle sparkle motherfuckers"

    Oh, Bonnee, you nearly made me choke on my coffee. Time does not allow me a full comment for now, but I could not let that pass. Congrats on hitting the halfway point, I'll be back later when I have more time.

    1. Back with more.

      Don't feel ashamed for liking Twilight. For whatever reason, it connected with a huge number of people. I think a lot of it was that Bella was so bland and empty anyone could put themselves in her place. As for Edward, he was a toolbag, yes, but it was because he was so gosh-darn crazy in love with her from the get-go that he couldn't handle it--don't we all want that kind of devotion (actually, I think the idea of it is much nicer than the reality, but that's exactly the appeal of it in fiction, I think)?

      When I think of the Cullens as described in the high school cafeteria, I always picture all five (4? 6?) of them standing in a cluster, all kind of looking off in different directions, standing absolutely still, all looking regal, standoffish. It's a bizarre image.

      By the way, the thing in the writing that drove me absolutely nuts was how everyone murmured everything. Nobody talked, they just murmured. Gah!

    2. Haha sorry if I shocked you with the sparkle sparkle comment...

      I think you're spot-on as far as why so many people loved Twilight. Not sure if it was Meyer's intention or not to have Bella in there as basically a vessel for her readers to place themselves in the story, but it was effective As for the devotion, yes, it's the idea that the readers would fall in love with rather than the reality, which is perhaps why the presence of the idea is dangerous and misleading.

      I think including Edward there are five, so you were right with the first guess. Have you seen the movie? It's basically how you describe it, except they're sitting around a table in one corner away from everyone else.

      I didn't pick up on that during the second reading... but admittedly, I only reread the first four or five chapters myself. Thanks for visiting, JeffO, always nice to hear your opinion :)

    3. I should have clarified--you didn't shock me, I thought it was quite funny!

      Haven't seen the movie. I've been tempted, but have resisted. I do not see the fuss over Robert Pattinson (looks drunk) or Kristin Stewart--too moody.

    4. No, I don't see the appeal in either of them either. The movies are only good for laughing at how terrible they are. And the soundtracks.

  2. These are the places where I'm probably going to really dislike my classes when I start college for a creative writing degree in just over a year. I've mentioned before, I don't care to find meaning in my prose. I've never finished something and thought that I'd missed something, because I don't look very hard for it. "Theme" is a subject that it seems college English educators like to harp on a lot, even thought writers care about it less and less, especially in the speculative genres. Also, I don't have time to reread books, so I'd actually appreciate if a book didn't make me want to reread it, but that point is entirely my own.

    1. Okay, I got a little carried away this morning. I still appreciate the speculative element of speculative fiction a lot, asking and then answering a theoretical question. As a thought experiment, yes, I do look for "meaning" in prose, although it's a different sort of thing in speculative fiction than it is in other forms of prose (at least for me).

      After reading this I went ahead and read the first chapter of Twilight and I thought she was actually a decent character. A lot of her personality traits were written subtly, possibly due to the fact that Stephanie Meyer learned from a writer of adult fantasy, a genre known for characters that you have to really pay attention to get the gist of their personality. (I hope that doesn't come off as insulting. I don't mean to say that you weren't reading "well enough" or anything like that. It may just be that this isn't the sort of thing that you read so it's easy to slip by you. Or I'm just making it all up.) To me, Bella comes across as a gloomy, tougher, intelligent young lady who talks herself down in her own head. She doesn't care about much about friendship, yet being genuinely liked or disliked by someone is enough to rattle her. I think that's a pretty deep character. Then again, I only read the first chapter.

    2. Hey Patrick, nice to hear your input. I suppose what I should have mentioned, though I'm not sure if I might have said it before, is that my fiction classes are focused on literary fiction rather than any sort of genre fiction, so I think a deeper meaning is needed for it to classify. Having said that, I know a lot of people don't have time for re-reading OR literary fiction in general. I rarely re-read myself.

      As for Bella, I guess this reflects on what I said about different people reading the same thing in different ways. I think JeffO made a good point about why Bella is a "good" character; she's so flat (to readers like me anyway) that any girl can put herself into the story through her. However, personally, when I look at Bella's character in the book as a whole, I find her... well, she kind of just makes me roll my eyes and shake my head with how damsel-in-distress she can be. Please excuse me if my inner feminist is coming through haha, thanks for visiting Patrick, it's nice to hear your thoughts. :)

  3. Conrats for finishing half of your University degree. I recognize two Canadian authors and one Mexican writer, Octavio Paz, in your non fiction summary. Octavio Paz got the nobel Prize for literarture nad I put him a little in my Mexican novel. I'll see if I can get his book "My life with the wave"in the library.
    The only Australian "poetry' That I know is from the songs of Air Supply ..:) I was wondering if they will teach you about the mega best sellers in YA fiction (Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight) so it's nice to see that at least you covered one of them. Most literary agents said that the writing in TWILIGHT isn't great, but so many people enjoyed reading these books and viewing the movies, so Stephanie Meyer did good for herself and her fans. Bit I think that most literary agenst will reject her if she submits her first novel now. I tend not to judge books that did very well, because many people enjoyed reading them ... so what does it matter if they are not that good.
    Thanks for all the summaries that you gave us in the past few weeks. I notice that when you read you tend to analyze much more than me (the same also when you view TV shows). I just read without thinking much, so I doubt that a second reading (which I rarely do) will make a difference for me. I don't get poetry. Fro example, Octavio Paz from Mexico is a famous poet. I read a few of his peoms and didn't get them. Then I went to the internet where people analyzed his poems and they write so many things about the meaning of the poems and I didn't see any of that. At best I can write simple lyrics for songs. You have the right to knock down TWILIGHT. Most literary agents knocked it down as average or below average writing. They did the same for FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. One think you don't realize is that you are learning a lot from all the courses in your program, which makes you look with critical eyes at books. Poeple like me who didn't study literarture are less critical. Just make sure that the fiction you write will be up to your standards. Didn't write a personal essay but it's good to do in order to reflect about personal issues. Best of luck in finishing all your course work.

    1. "My life with the wave" was interesting, though I was not entirely sure what was happening. Again with the deeper meaning that I knew I wasn't quite picking up. But I enjoyed it.

      Air Supply? I think the most iconic Australian poem is probably 'My Country' by Dorothea Mackellar, and I'm also familiar with some of Gwen Harwood's work, which I studied in high school.

      I'm not sure about Harry Potter, but I know I'll be studying the Hunger Games at some point in kids lit next trimester. The only regret I have at the moment is that I won't have a chance to take on the supernatural lit unit one of my friends is studying, where they study Game of Thrones.

      Look, the main reason I read these books with such an analytical eye is because that's what's required of me for class. The criticisms I give are usually things that have been discussed to some extent during tutorials, so I can't take all of the credit. While I do pick up on some of these things myself, my arguments would not be nearly as thorough if my teacher didn't prompt class discussions. And then I get stuck in this circle of starting to analyse things that aren't for class with this critical eye too, haha.

      Thanks for visiting the blog and I hope you enjoy Octavio's work, if you can find it :)

  4. AnonymousJune 02, 2014

    Happy (almost) end of the semester!! :)

  5. I think getting well-known actors for the "white" characters in Freedom Writers was more of a Hollywood marketing thing than passive/possibly racist subtext, but it is something to be noted. So yeah. Also I cannot get over the fact that the singer Mario is in this film for some weird reason.

    Oh Twilight, what the hell were we both thinking when we used to like it back in the day? Yeah I'm an ex-fan too, join the club! 8D

    It's been what almost two weeks since the trimester ended and oh my god, am I still struggling to finish re-reading it. Like you said, this book is just bloody awful, and a lot more boring than I remembered it (I'm anticipating the sparkling scene because the amount of abuse on her thesaurus in *one* paragraph is a feat I must applaud Meyer for). I won't bore you with an essay-length comment here about my problems with it as well, but yeah once you delve deeper into this book, it's got some real messed up ideology.

    And now for something completely different. Fun fact: I just nominated you for a Liebster award! You may be wondering, what the bloody hell is that? Reasonable enough, to which I recommend you check out my blog post and have fun with it! :D

    1. Oops, didn't realise I hadn't replied to this, sorry!

      It was definitely a Hollywood thing, but within the Hollywood thing we saw that it was marketed towards a certain demographic when perhaps it should have been marketed to a different demographic.

      I gave up on the re-reading. Unless you did your essay on it, you shouldn't have bothered!

      Also, yay Liebster!


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