Plot

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On hate and the waste of it.

Published July 24, 2012 by mandileighbean

Yesterday, I wrote on the importance of love.  Following that train of thought, it is only logical to arrive at the conclusion that hate is unimportant, in the sense that it is senseless; there’s no point to it.  I’m not just talking about forgiving and forgetting those who wrong us, but also about the bigger issues, such as the prejudices and cruel assumptions that at times can plague society and thereby cripple the brotherhood of man.

Tonight, I watched the film “American History X,” starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, and directed by Tony Kaye.  It tells the story of a reformed neo-Nazi who does his best to keep his younger brother from making his mistakes.  It is incredibly powerful and moving, and offers up an important lesson that at one point or another, we all lose sight of.  If it were up to me, everyone would see this film.  While the language is obscene and some scenes are clearly disturbing, it is never gratuitous or manufactured.  The film is genuine and authentic, and that is where the power lies.  The characters are identifiable and thoroughly developed so there is an emotional investment, regardless of an audience’s personal politics.  Released in 1998, I did not note any antiquated aspects.  The film most definitely holds up some fourteen years later and is still, in my opinion, incredibly poignant and relevant.  The film exhibits art at its best; beautiful and educational.  The cinematography is perfectly juxtaposed against the story, which is penned remarkably well so that a lesson is learned without anything being too preachy or pretentious.  This film is honestly one in a million and were it not rated R, I believe a solid until on tolerance would couple the film with readings of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and Night by Elie Wiesel.  Honestly, if it were up to me, everyone would view this film at least once.  Love is the greatest gift we have and the strongest bond we can form amongst ourselves.  Anything that would belittle or try to destroy that compassion and companionship, such as hate, has no place in our lives.  I understand that sentiment is easier said than executed and may, unfortunately, be idealistic for the environment in which we live.  That does not mean that the sentiment is any less accurate and should not still be strived for daily.

PROMPT: A woman whose husband is killed during a tour of duty overseas decides to turn her home into a boarding house.

PIECE: Diane sat on the edge of her bed, breathing slowly.  She allowed her lungs to fill and she felt the expansion in her chest.  Then, she deflated her lungs and felt her whole body kind of relax and smooth.  Her high-heeled shoes rested firmly upon the wooden floor of the bedroom with strong ankles that did not cave one way or the other.  Her knees came together not only because she was wearing a dress, but because she was terribly knock-kneed.  Her hands, which had finally stopped shaking about a month ago, rested on her lap in a professional and detached kind of way, calmly folded.  Her back was ramrod straight and she was mindful to keep her shoulders lowered from her ears so that the vultures named anxiety and grief would have nowhere to perch; at least not for today.

Beside Diane was the expertly and lovingly folded American flag she had been handed at her husband’s funeral by a white gloved Marine.  She had been unable to without it since the funeral.  It had been a year since and as the flag became a near constant companion, the bedroom had become a stranger.  She had not slept in the bedroom since Nathan had left for Afghanistan and had abandoned it for good when she learned Nathan was never coming home.  Like a ghost, she had traversed the halls of the home silent and numb.  The house was quiet and empty in a way that was rather unsettling.  For three hundred and sixty five days, Diane ate a small breakfast and small dinner at the counter in the kitchen.  The time in between was filled with a blaring television that she looked through rather than watched, prostrated upon the couch.  It was no way to live, but she couldn’t bear to leave the last space Nathan had occupied.  His life insurance allowed her to keep the home and live comfortably, but her father was already discussing the time when the money would run out, which it would eventually because she hadn’t been to work in a year and she had no intentions of returning.

As comforting – or rather, as familiar as it was to wallow in her grief, Diane knew it could not be a permanent state of being.  Nathan wouldn’t be pleased and if she were allowed to keep on living, it had to be for a reason.  Her broken heart hadn’t killed her yet, and as long as the organ continued to beat, she had to continue on.  Thus, she came to the decision she would turn the home she had shared with Nathan into a boarding house.  The silence she despised would be filled by happy travelers and their families.  Life would bustle through the halls once more.  She would be able tp keep her mind occupied and her hands busy with the upkeep on the place, just as the necessary renovations to the home had done.  Diane also realized she could hang Nathan’s picture and his medals near the front door, prompting the patrons to ask questions and allowing Diane to contribute to keeping her husband’s memory alive.  Everything was prepared and today, she was set to recieve her very first customers.

There was just the matter of the flag.  She turned her sorrowful, but gradually lightening, eyes to it.  When Diane left the house, the flag traveled with her, in the passenger seat of her car.  She had spent a solid three months cradling it like an infant.  Her father-in-law had mentioned something about letting go and moving on and to appease him and all those worried about her, she stopped carrying it around.  But wherever she was, so it was.  But she couldn’t have that now, couldn’t be seen carrying it from one room to the other, clutching to it like a drowning victim would a life preserver.  People would find it sad and creepy, and no one would want to stay there.  Diane had decided it was time to deal with the flag.  She had debated buying a case and placing it beside Nathan’s picture near the entrance, but thought such a shrine might be a little too morbid and bring the war too close for comfort to her wearied travelers.  Besides, Diane wanted to feel its cloth beneath her fingers whenever she wanted, as it reminded her of the way it felt to smooth Nathan’s uniform before he left the house.  It had to be discreet yet easily accessible.

She was going to leave it in the closet of the master bedroom but as she couldn’t stand to be in the room and was thereby renting it out, such an option was not logical.  Diane was going to place it somewhere in her bedroom but she feared she’d never leave the room, that she’d be prone to slipping back into her fugue state, simply sitting and stroking the flag, doing no more than wasting away.  Diane liked the tactile features of having the flag in the home, but it was time to move on.

Today, before the first boarders arrived, she would drive the flag over to Nathan’s mother and father.

On literary snobbery and sex.

Published July 20, 2012 by mandileighbean

Call me a literary snob.

Call me uptight.

Call me prude.

Call me what you will, but upon reading the following linked news article, I became indignant and nearly filled with rage; http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/18/bronte-bondage-classic-literature-gets-fifty-shades-of-grey-treatment/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Fentertainment+%28TIME%3A+Entertainment%29&utm_content=Google+Reader.

I understand that the current trend in Hollywood dictates that what will be successful will not be new; instead, it will be a reincarnation of what was successful in the past, and more often than not, it will be a crude and diluted version.  What happened to artistic integrity?  It is more than a little disheartening to see millions being made as literary classics – stories already told and stories against which all others are measured – are warped and twisted to fit the fleeting interests of the American public.

I admit I may be in a little hypocritical in my view because I said nothing when Pride and Prejudice because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I suppose I may have been more forgiving then because that book did not take itself seriously; it did not claim to add to the character development or themes.  It truly added a supernatural element and left it at that.  Now, classic novels are being rewritten to include scenes they claim are “missing;” who can possibly make that claim but the author?  There is nothing “missing” from the relationships between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and between Heathcliff and Catherine.  These novels became classics because of the literary elements which are now deemed unsatisfactory and not entertaining.  They need sex, because everything in society has to be sexy to have value.  That is the message the public is sent through the media, and it has now inevitably trickled into literature.  I would not mind half as much if original stories were more sexualized – I would discount it as a sign of changing times and just more evidence of society’s ever-changing interests.  However, that is not what is happening.

I do not think that anyone who reads Fifty Shades of Grey is a sex-starved, literary simpleton.  Far from it; I completely understand that tastes differ.  Hell, I’m thinking about reading the Fifty Shades trilogy myself.  I think it important to note, however, that two women who have read both the first and the second books in the series complained there was too much sexual interaction between the characters, and not enough character development.  I wonder, then, how introducing sex scenes into literary classics could possibly enhance character development.

Indeed, a large aspect of the sex appeal of literary characters like Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff is that they are mysterious, secretive, allusive, wounded and brooding.  To introduce a physical and intense sex scene robs the characters of that mystery and debases them.  The inclusion of such racy relationships is anachronistic more than anything else; the scenes are not “missing,” as is arrogantly stated in the article.  How presumptuous it is.

It especially bothers me that nothing appears to be sacred anymore.  In this respect, I understand I am not as “progressive” as others and may be deemed old-fashioned, but what happened to keep secret desires, passions and fantasies just that – a secret?  Part of the charm and brilliance of reading is that the reader must use his or her imagination.  Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are incredibly romantic and passionate; the material is all there and it is up to the reader to find it, embrace it and further it as he or she wishes.  It is more effective, in this writer’s humble opinion, to allow the reader to infer.  When Mr. Rochester simply stares at Jane with an impassive countenance, it is enough to imagine what he is thinking.  The unspoken sexual tension that is subtly laced throughout is not only a masterful skill of the craft of writing, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the stories.

Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic novel; something some would argue is akin to porn.  Whether or not porn is an art form is not the argument I am trying to present.  I am only upset that artistic integrity is being traded in for commercial success.  It is a shame.  Even Fifty Shades of Grey was inspired by another idea; it started out as fanfiction of the Twilight series.  At least E.L. James did not try rewriting the series; she created a world and characters of her own.

PROMPT: A man ducks into a dress shop to escape a sudden downpour and finds himself in the middle of a heated debate between the employees.

PIECE: Tom hadn’t expected the sudden and furious onslaught of rain, and neither had anyone else, judging by the mass exodus of people from the sidewalks and pavements into nearby stores and under any awning.  It was the summer, and sweeping rains were not uncommon, but remained an annoyance.  Holding his toned arms crossed above his carefully gelled-hair atop his intelligent head, Tom ducked into a women’s dress shop on the right side of the street.  The bell dinged from above as he entered, but no one else seemed to acknowledge his arrival.  Matter of fact, the shop seemed relatively deserted.  It was dimly lit, which Tom figured was supposed to give the boutique-ish store some ambience, but it only made him squint (like doing so would help him to see better) and give him a headache.

There was some soft jazz-sounding music emitting softly from the speakers overhead, but the speakers were in need of repair and the sound crackled and went silent every now and again.  Tom gave a glance out the windows, saw the rain pounding against everything in its path and sighed heavily, assuming he’d be in the store for a while.  He began making his way toward the sales counter.  Tom really wasn’t sure why he chose that path, and chalked it up to being more instinct than anything else.  Then again, maybe he was just bored and looking for some human interaction.  Either way, what else was he supposed to do?

Tom was greeted at the counter by screaming, shrill and distinctly feminine voices.  Two women, both young and red in the face, were shouting at each other.  Their arms waved to and fro in wild gesticulations, clearly indicating to Tom that both women were clearly passionate about the subject which was the topic of conversation, or rather, the argument.  Smiling to himself, proud of his chauvinistic cleverness, Tom assumed it would be about the different membership advantages of Team Edward versus Team Jacob.  He moved forward, ready with a clever and discreetly insulting remark about such a discussion, certain that while catching the ladies off guard, it would impress them with his intelligence and thereby make him immediately irresistible.  Tom opened his mouth to proclaim his witty retort, but was suddenly silenced when he actually stopped and listened to what was being said.

“But there are two different kinds of government spending, Melinda,” the young woman on the right explained.  “And both kinds need to be cut, both direct spending and discretionary spending, to get our economy back on its feet!”

Melinda rolled her eyes.  She said, “But, Crystal, what you really want to do is cut direct spending and completely reform needed and beneficial programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  People depend on those programs.”

Crystal looked tired.  “Reform is not the same as negating or cutting.  Surely you realize that!”

Tom cleared his throat and both women turned their heads toward him quickly.  Their impassioned expressions smoothed and they thoughtlessly resumed the role of clerk, of liaison to the masses.  To Tom, they looked prettier this way; eager to serve, aiming to please and ignorant of economics and its accompanying buzzwords.

“You ladies read Twilight?” he offered lamely.

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