Phil Dunphy

"I’m the cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face." - Phil Dunphy

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Believe in Miracles

            Another day of English goes by and a paper-cut appears on my hand. Or maybe scissors created the blemish? Perhaps a crayon somehow scarred my hand. “Impossible!” you say to yourself.  “Only an idiot could cut himself with a crayon.” Well I have a confession to make: I am that idiot when it comes to art. In fact, when my English teacher informed the class last week that we would participate in a friendly competition involving creativity and imagination, my stomach landed on top of a freshman’s head while she sat in Mr. Kerul’s room. I hate art for a variety of reasons. To begin with, sharp objects and I go about as well together as Hanukah and Christmas. Let us flashback to my sixth grade year when my entire grade took a field trip to The Pond. To this day I do not understand how the ice became sprinkled with red while a puddle of blood formed in my right hand, all happening while part of my right pointer finger dangled from a thin piece of skin. I ended up losing that small portion of my finger and have the scar in remembrance. Again, I do not do well with sharp objects, like ice skates. Only to make matters worse, my siblings found it amusing to call me Peter Pettigrew the following month after the incident. Hopefully I have portrayed the fact that art utensils and I butt heads. My rock bottom creativity also adds to my distaste for crafts, such as creating collages. Allow me to explain. I think most teenagers enjoy decorating their Christmas tree with their siblings. I, however, can barely tolerate the experience. Many of my family’s ornaments come from the creations of the Stevenson children at young ages. Unfortunately, I learned how to draw a circle after I learned how to ride a bike. Therefore, the ornaments I created at a young age deem indistinguishable. My siblings, always the genuine supporting cast I need in my life, ask me if Stevie Wonder helped me meld together an attempted image of a star and manger. My creativity and skills with a marker depicted itself again just this past November. One of my mother’s friends walked into our home and pointed to one of my youthful decorations hanging on the wall: “Wow Barb! I cannot believe you’ve already started decorating for Thanksgiving!” In actuality, my mother had yet to relieve the walls from our Halloween decorations. Ouch. Despite these slight artistic disabilities, here I sit today, alive and well, writing on a keyboard with ten fingers and two eyes after cutting out magazines and gluing my hands together. I suppose miracles do have a tendency to happen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Power of Analyzation

            People express their personalities in hundreds of different ways nowadays. Individuals use clothing, shoes, cars, bumper stickers, jewelry, phone cases and other possessions to tell the world of their certain interests and pet-peeves. Posters remain one of the most widely utilized ways to assert such personality traits. I take myself as an example. If one has the honor to walk up the steps of my household to the hallway connecting my family’s bedrooms, they would see a larger-than-life size poster of the famous Sandra Bullock hanging from one of the doors. Not risqué in the slightest bit, this poster captures the amazing beauty of the brilliant actress in a gorgeous snow white dress, batting those mysterious luscious eyes of overwhelming delicacy. Above the worldly goddess resides a poster containing a cartoon replica of spider-man. To the right of this Marvel superhero sits Kobe Bryant, staring menacingly at the stairwell. After briefly analyzing the decoration of this door, one can imply that, most likely, two boys share this dormitory. Through the depiction of the posters containing a basketball superstar and an actress, one can infer that the older boy sleeping in this room loves sports while also possessing an unbelievable taste in women. From analyzing the Marvel poster, a bystander can come to the conclusion that the younger boy sharing this room enjoys movies and reading. Both assumptions would deem correct in this situation. So, if a simple poster depicts specific details about the owner, what does the poster hanging in Ms. Serensky’s room containing characters from the Harry Potter series portray? To begin with, I question why the poster chosen for our teacher’s room includes an advertisement for the fifth Harry Potter movie. The date on the bottom of the poster, depicting the release of the “Order of the Phoenix,” portrays that the hanger of the advertisement obtained the propaganda before the release of the last two movies. The poster’s owner’s decision to hang this poster however, a symbolic representation of the darkest of J.K. Rowling’s novels at the time, creates numerous implications surrounding the owner of the ad. I can infer that the inhabitant of the room containing the poster possesses a dark sense of humor as well as a complex mind. Those fascinated by the magical fantasies of Harry Potter and profound genius of Rowling’s work prove extremely intellectual. I support this claim through personal experiences. Also, the teacher’s decision to include a poster portraying various characters instead of a single witch or wizard proves interesting. The numerous characters represent the open-mindedness of the owner of the poster. Instead of analyzing things from one perspective, the possessor depicts his/her ability to evaluate things from numerous views. Finally, the poster’s deceptive location tells me much about its owner. By placing the poster nonchalantly on a filing cabinet in the back of the room, the teacher wishes to portray to others that the object proves of little value to her. However, the ad, almost directly sitting across from the teacher’s desk, depicts the necessity the owner feels in gazing at the propaganda. In conclusion, despite acting as if the Harry Potter books play a minimal role in her life, our English teacher lives day to day with the fond memories of Hogwarts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bitter Sweet

            The AP English Student of the Month Award remains one of the most valued endowments in the school. At least I like to think this. As the year progresses, however, such a distinction becomes less…well distinct I suppose. The preposterous fact that no person may receive the award more than once parallels the same philosophy to that of my kindergarten soccer coach. Sure, many of my teammates found it entertaining to pick daisies as the ball rolled pass their ankles. Sure, none of the kids on the field could even spell scoreboard. Sure, most of the players on my team showed up week after week solely for the free, grape snowcone they received after the game. However, these actions should not diminish the fact that, when the game ended, one team lost and one team won. Yet my coach allowed these small factors to change the rules of the world. After the game, my coach assured us that “we were all winners,” even after a lost. When we won, I knew the exact same scenario happened on the opposing sideline. I figured that I, a responsible human being, would inform the players on the other team that in actuality, they were in fact losers and that their coach lied to them simply to make them feel better. I remember this happening one Saturday morning, while lining up to shake hands with the other team after the game. My coach taught us to go through the line and say “Good game” to each of the opposing players. Even though anyone with the slightest math background understood that my team won the game by five goals, I knew that the opposing coach had repeated the cursed statement to his players. So, I figured I would act as the better man and go through the line saying, “7-2. 7-2. 7-2” and so on and so forth. However, I learned to live through countless scenarios of “spreading the wealth” (although my mother demanding that I share my Skittles with another boy because he cried almost killed me). For this reason, I believe that I will persevere through the rest of the school year, with the rest of my fellow AP English Students of the Month Award winners, despite knowing the fact that we will never again win such an award. Therefore, I will attempt to live by the cliché, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Although winners of this high honor will never again feel the suspense that comes during the drum roll before the announcement of the victor of the award, I urge ex-winners to set aside their distaste for the rules of the world and support their new brethren. For example, brainstorming photo ideas for the new hero would prove exceptionally helpful. As the year continues, I expect the photo shots of the monthly winners to become more and more creative. Despite Osgood’s past, visionary pose, jumpstarted with Hinman’s stellar mannequin performance, I think such a goal remains reachable.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ernie Should Have Confided in Bert

                     After long, seemingly endless conversations about the topic of happiness in English class last week, Thanksgiving Break finally rolled around to relieve my classmates and I from awkward “speed-dating” situations. I firmly believe that I, over the course of my teenage years, have justly earned the title of “World’s Worst Small Talker.” Perhaps my peers enjoyed the experience of conversing with a person for a minute or two before whisking away to another individual. I, however, could not help wringing out my sweaty hands, scrambling around my brain for anything that would keep the discussion running, all the while thinking of any tips that Will Smith may have mentioned in his movie, Hitch. In fact, when consultation hit rock bottom, I began reciting Bible verses in my head, praying that I would survive this experience in one piece. Awkwardness kills me. Anyways, as I said earlier, these quick yet numerous interactions with my classmates centered around the idea of happiness. Before I begin a spiel on contentment, I think I must establish my personal thoughts and feelings about thinking and analyzing the term “happiness.” I hope I have not lost you. I believe that thoughts on an abstract thing like joy delve into the psychological world. I do not think such thoughts prove futile; many benefits can arise from analyzing how the brain works. However, in the long run, interpreting these ideas will turn a person in a complete circle, placing an individual back to where they started. Every individual acts in their own, specific way. No two brains operate identically. Therefore, why should we possess the arrogance into thinking that every human shares the same feelings as us in reference to such an abstract idea like happiness? I believe that scraping the surface of this topic can reap results. However, attempting to discover deeper meaning in this psychological area proves inefficient and unnecessary. Now that I finished my rant on psychology (I hope I did not offend any of my readers), let us move to the topic at hand. More specifically, let us turn to Ernest Hemingway, American author and journalist who claimed that “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” While reading this in class, the urge to decapitate a small stuffed animal overcame me, followed by a loathing for this man. The author’s quote offended me because I like to think that I possess a tiny bit of intelligence (when you recover from the fall off your chair, you can keep reading). In many cases, intelligence brings forth worldly possessions. Hemingway depicts the claim that these worldly goods distract people from things that bring true happiness: family, friends and companionship. However, as discussed this past day in English class, winning the lottery and becoming wealthy yields worldly possessions, promoting comfort and relaxation. Truly intelligent people understand the driving forces behind obtaining happiness and have the ability to analyze the dangers that come with intelligence. I think that Ernie should have pondered his statement about such a debatable subject before speaking to the press.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What a Nightmare

            This past week, I experienced an event in English class unlike anything I have ever encountered in my life. The teacher’s directions seemed straightforward enough. Read a short story, do a SOAPSTone for the passage, and come to class prepared with reactions about the piece of work. Students in AP English read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and, let me assure anyone reading this, Poe’s tale definitely proved itself as a “piece of work.” I think I should establish certain facts about myself before I continue with my experience. To begin with, I scare easily. For example, while in a haunted house this past year, I screamed so loudly that the witch who scared me asked if I…she asked a question that implied I shared numerous feminine qualities (use your imagination). Then the year before that, a certain girl and I shared a crush on each other. However, after a scary movie night get-together with friends, this girl shockingly informed me that she “wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with me anymore,” shortly after the movie night. I understood, and supported, her motives. Certain words definitely describe my personality when it comes to terrifying encounters. Words like sissy, wussy, and wimpy find their way right up my alley. Anyways, in class, we watched a short clip based off Poe’s work, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” adapted by Darrin Walker and Travis Mays. Walker and Mays attempt to dull down the fear-factor in their work by omitting a scene which includes human incapacitation as well as including a celebrity look-alike of Robert Downey Jr. These minor changes however, provided me with absolutely no sources of refuge from the terror that covered the screen. After peeking between my fingers for the majority of the film and turning purple in the face due to valiant efforts to withstand from screaming, I sneak a glimpse at my teacher during the closing credits. What I witness causes my heart to leap. For there, in her chair, some sort of fit seems to overcome my English teacher. I pity her, for I know the embarrassment of such reactions to a horror film. However, after seconds of watching her, I realize that she does not twitch uncontrollably in her chair due to fear, but rather because of laughter. I cannot believe my eyes. There I sit, haunted by an older man’s “vulture eye” and Robert Downey’s unspeakable deeds, while my teacher laughs in hysteria. I ask myself the question, “How could anyone find such enjoyment in a horror film?” After pondering this question for a couple days, I arrive at only one conclusion: certain people actually enjoy the feeling of going into cardiac arrest when their heart stops beating. Similar to riding a roller coaster, particular individuals harness the suspense created in a scary movie and somehow channel this energy into a thrill that leaves them hungry for more. In all honesty, I believe that there resides a bit of jealousy within me towards these people who relish horror movies. Over the next year, I will search for ways that will hopefully allow me to build a tolerance towards these films, and therefore enable me to watch scary movies with people of the opposite sex.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Surprisingly Dreadful Day

            Certain students enjoy receiving new writing partners. I, however, find the extravaganza quite a demoralizing event due to the unspoken truth: last year, my teacher often paired a great writer with another student whose writing could use a little help. Shockingly, the majority of my past writing partners have proved themselves as some of the best writers in the grade.  Although this trend seemed much stronger last year, I think the above hypothesis still holds validity this year for at least one of her students: this guy. For instance, last Monday, my teacher paired me up with the student who won the “English Student of the Year Award” last year. I wish my teacher would have just slapped a sticker across my forehead that read “I SUCK” instead of pairing me up with this genius. Such an experience would have proved less humiliating. Anyways, after receiving our new writing partners on Monday, my teacher exclaimed, in a voice that haunts my dreams to this day, “This is the first test to prove your dominance over your partner and show that you are the leader of the pair.” Although paraphrasing slightly, the remark made me ponder this question: why does a leader emerge within a pair of people? I think author, Haruki Murakami, answers this question in his short story, “The Second Bakery Attack.” In a year when Japan experienced 8,581 violent crimes (1985), Murakami weaves a tale of a newlywed couple attacking a McDonalds in order to break a curse placed upon the duo. During the attack, the wife orders her husband to “Lower…shutter and turn off…sign” (7). The commanding diction of “Lower” and “turn off” creates a dominating tone, indirectly characterizing the wife as the leader of the couple. The woman’s ability to think quickly and intelligently during the attack implies that she possesses a history in crime. For this reason, Murakami asserts that the person with more experience in a certain situation will naturally arise as the leader of a couple. After the conclusion of the McDonalds attack, Harukami writes, “she [the wife] fell asleep” and “I [the husband]…closed my eyes” (9). The mood of closure depicted by the pleasant diction of “asleep” implies that the couple finally finds peace from the detestable curse. Through this sense of contentment, Harukami develops the claim that leadership brings about happiness. The author urges those familiar with the topic at hand to take leadership within a group in order to bring about success. On the other hand, I urge those humble enough to admit their weaknesses in certain aspects of life (especially writing) to accept their role as side-kick and support their leaders.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Raw Broccoli

            After completion of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, I for some odd reason cannot help but compare the book to raw broccoli…without dip. At first thought, one must think that Olive Kitteridge proved one of the worst books I have ever read in my entire life due to raw broccoli’s repulsive taste. I, however, will explain why such a rash and hasty inference deems preposterous in this scenario. People who have never experienced the displeasure of eating raw broccoli should consider themselves extremely lucky. The initial outrageous blandness of such a vegetable hits the tongue’s taste buds and somehow, someway, turns the bland taste into a malevolent foulness, often becoming difficult to swallow. The same rings true for Strout’s novel. At some points during the reading, I wanted nothing more than to “spit” the words back out. Strout includes narratives that prove difficult to “swallow,” like raw broccoli. For example, the author writes a short story about a young woman named Julie, still controlled by her mother, Anita, despite Julie’s entrance to womanhood. Julie recollects to her younger sister how “Most mothers don’t shoot their daughter’s boyfriends,” after Anita attempts to kill Julie’s ex-fiancé (195). Although quite scary, Strout surely captures an accurate mother-daughter relationship in certain American families within this narrative. This thought urges me to put the broccoli down. In another narrative, Strout explains how the main character, Olive Kitteridge, visits her son, Christopher, in New York City. Olive, a widow that lost her lovable husband to a stroke, maintains few friends in her growing age. Christopher remains one of few reasons Olive continues to keep living. However, by the end of her stay in New York, Olive explains why she cannot call her son, “He was cruel” (232). This direct characterization of Christopher creates realization towards Olive’s situation: she has no one left in her life to live for. However, as with raw broccoli, many people forget the effects of battling through such horrible “taste.” Raw broccoli deems great for the human body, providing a person with physical strength and endurance. Olive, though quite old in age, battles through the curveballs and difficulties life throws at her. Due to her perseverance, Olive falls in love with a man, filling each other’s “holes” within their lives, like “two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together” (270). Although very depressing at points, Olive Kitteridge ends on a hopeful note. In doing so, Strout utilizes the character of Olive to speak to those encountering difficult life problems in order to tell them that there is always a reason to live. Similar to broccoli, Olive Kitteridge proves worthwhile to “eat.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


            Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 novel, Olive Kitteridge, dives in and out of numerous peculiar narratives about the townsfolk in Crosby, Maine. Each narrative includes the character, Olive Kitteridge, in some way or form, weaving her unforgettable presence into many people’s lives. Now two-thirds of the way finished with Strout’s work, my feelings towards her book have changed since the beginning of the novel. No longer do I read Strout’s work with a smile on my face and an urge to turn the page, but rather a depressing feeling that just wants Strout’s tales to end. I find that as the book progresses, the narratives become darker and darker with more evils entering into the character’s lives. For example, Strout’s first few narratives of her work end with lessons learned by certain characters, as well as hope. For instance, Strout constructs a story about a young boy named Kevin Coulson who plans to commit suicide. However, while risking his life to save a childhood friend from the ferociousness of the ocean, Kevin admires his friend’s will exclaiming, “Look how she wanted to live” (47). Kevin’s commendable tone towards his friend’s perseverance to live strikes hope in the minds of the readers, suggesting that Kevin may choose not to commit suicide. The very next narrative ends in a similar, hopeful way. The piano player in the town’s bar, Angela O’Meara, struggles with relationships. Strout describes a past relationship with a fellow pianist named Simon, as well as a current relationship with a married man named Malcolm. After a night with confrontations between both Simon and Malcolm, Angela makes the decision to move on, announcing that “Even drunk, she knew she would not call him [Malcolm]” (60). Angela’s choice to leave crippling relationships to better her life motivates Strout’s audience to do the same in their lives. After these inspiring narratives however, Olive Kitteridge seems take a U-Turn. Strout relates a tale of a young anorexic girl named Nina. With the help of Olive Kitteridge and a widowed woman named Daisy, Nina seeks the aid of her parents in order to cure her disease. Despite all of Daisy and Olive’s efforts, Daisy must pass on the saddening news a few months later, “The funeral’s private” (100). Strout creates false sense of hope in this narrative, robbing readers of a feeling of success and happiness. Strout then goes on to weave a story of how the Kitteridges unfortunately become hostages in an armed robbery at the hospital. Instead of finding peace and forgiveness after the drastic event, the townspeople conclude that “Both Kitteridges were changed by the event” (105). The next paragraph goes on to explain how this “change” experienced by the Kitteridges proved unhealthy. Strout’s writing clearly depicts how not every challenge encountered by an individual ends happily ever after.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


            Elizabeth Strout, author of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Award with her book, Olive Kitteridge, weaves numerous narratives together all in the presence of one, unforgettable character, in her masterpiece. Not surprisingly, this one distinguished character goes by the name of Olive Kitteridge. Strout’s prized character, Olive, mirrors the author’s life in certain areas. For example, after growing up in various towns in northern New England, Strout decides to develop the character Olive in a small town by the name of Crosby, Maine. Olive Kitteridge teaches for a living, paralleling Strout’s mother. Despite these charming comparisons, I would most definitely not befriend Olive due to her pretentious demeanor and shrewd attitude. The novel begins with a narrative that describes the relationship Olive possesses with her husband, Henry Kitteridge. Henry, a laid-back man who runs the town’s pharmacy with a young woman by the name of Denise, loves interacting with his working partner and her husband. While the Kitteridge’s eat dinner with the young couple (despite Olive’s protests), Olive cries out, “for God’s sake,” after Henry spills ketchup down the front of his shirt (7). Olive’s profane diction creates a tone of resentment towards her husband’s clumsiness. The italicized word “sake” indirectly characterizes her as accusatory and fed up with Henry’s actions. She goes on to announce to her husband that Denise “Looks just like a mouse” (5). The simile portrays Olive’s judgmental mentality towards others, illustrating her as an arrogant person. I do not desire to become friends with a woman that treats her husband as cruelly as Olive Kitteridge does and who possesses an air of contempt toward other people. Strout delves into another narrative about Olive Kitteridge’s son’s wedding day. Christopher Kitteridge, Olive’s son, unsurprisingly marries a woman with similar qualities to his mother: controlling and arrogant. Olive seems to understand the danger of having a daughter-in-law that thinks she can do nothing wrong, and the effects it will have on her son. In realizing this, Olive decides to steal and undergarment from Suzanne’s room, as well as a shoe. She also goes into Suzanne’s closet to draw black marker on one of her sweaters. Olive chooses these things “just to keep the self-doubt alive” in her daughter-in-law (74). Who is Olive to decide to vandalize and steal certain belongings of Suzanne in order keep intact the young woman’s arrogance? In her actions, Olive proves more audacious than her daughter-in-law. Speaking personally, I would not like to befriend a person who stole my underwear unknowingly from me. Strout warns those in search of friends to take care in choosing friends who think of themselves more highly than others.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Birthday

            I would have loved to meet the narrator, Jonah, in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle. By the end of Jonah’s fantastic tale, he finds himself in a peculiar situation. After surviving a dreadful disaster with similar effects to that of the atom bomb, he discovers few others on the island of San Lorenzo survived the catastrophe as well. Before this devastating event that wiped out almost the entire population of San Lorenzo and after Jonah becomes president of the little island, the narrator begins to possess a growing need to climb to the top of the country’s largest mountain peak, Mount McCabe. Once informed that the mountain has never been scaled by man as well as non sacred to the local religion, the adventurer claims that “Maybe I’ll [Jonah] climb it” (211). After the tragic mishap to the island, it becomes Jonah’s dream to reach the top of Mount McCabe and plant a symbol on the mountain’s peak. For this reason, if I could present a birthday present to Jonah, I would give him a pair of Verbera Hiker GTX Boots found only in North Face stores. It did cross my mind that Jonah could “borrow” a pair of hiking boots from a deserted store in the country’s capital, Bolivar. However, because San Lorenzo suffered from “misery and muck,” I figured Jonah had a slim probability of stumbling across a North Face store and therefore would have to climb in sub-par hiking gear (133). Once ascended to the top of Mount McCabe in his stellar boots, Jonah planned to turn himself to stone with the help of Felix Hoenikker’s invention, ice-nine. Every human to ever watch a movie knows that a hero, such as Jonah, has a perfect woman to love. Even before meeting her, Jonah fell in love with a young peach named Mona Aamons Monzano, exclaiming that she “could make me [Jonah] far happier than any woman” (85). Mona’s fate proved identical to Jonah’s: suicide. In order to give Jonah the strength to perform such a feat, my second gift to him would consist of a locket to wear around his neck with a picture of his heavenly Mona locked tightly against his heart. I hope that these two gifts bestow the necessary gear and strength to my friend Jonah so that he may complete his dream and fulfill his Bokononist views.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Little Only in Size

            In Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle, the author develops a character by the name of Newton Hoenikker. Vonnegut characterizes Newt as “a very tiny young man” but “nicely scaled” and “shrewdly watchful” (111). In simple terms, Newt was a midget. After quick research on little people, I learned the unfortunate effects of dwarfism. In fact, numerous studies show that severe shortness often associates with lower income as well as reduced employment opportunities. I sympathize with Newton Hoenikker’s severe shortness and, for this reason, would like to befriend this character if I could step into the book, Cat’s Cradle. Newt proves an extremely unlucky person. His birth brought death to his mother. His father rarely talked to Newt as a young boy. Now a college aged student, Newt flunks out of pre-medical school at Cornell University. Despite flunking out of school, the midget claims that he proves “a very privileged character” (13). Although unable to follow in his brilliant father’s footsteps, Newt remains optimistic and attempts to see the benefits of failing. Also, the young man faces reality and possesses the humility to admit that he “would have made a lousy doctor” (13). Vonnegut indirectly characterizes Newt as a modest, down-to-Earth, kind boy that embraces hardships in a mature way. I cannot help but admire these characteristics in a person. Now that he lives with his older sister, Angela, I feel as though I could become that one close friend of his if I could step into Vonnegut’s novel. I again sympathize with Newt due to his relationship with his sister. Although Newt has time and time again proved himself an adult, the narrator describes how Angela implies that “Newt was…too immature to deal…with the outside world” (112). Vonnegut creates pathos towards Newt’s entire lifestyle, allowing his readers to pity the midget’s poor circumstances. The author speaks to those in contact with little people, to remind them that midgets remain as mature as any other person. I have compassion upon Newt’s character and therefore wish to become a close friend of his if I could step into Kurt Vonnegut’s novel.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Religion in Surprising Places

            Kurt Vonnegut, born November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, spins a tale of a journalist attempting to write a book about the day the first atom bomb went off, in his novel, Cat’s Cradle. Published in 1963, during the midst of the Cold War raging between the U.S. and Soviet Union, nuclear warfare deemed a household debate. In fact, that same year, President Kennedy signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in attempts to lessen the danger of such unstable weapons. Due to the already heavily debated topic of nuclear warfare in his book, Kurt Vonnegut surprises me by including a religious side to his novel as well. For instance, in only the second page of his piece, the narrator informs the readers that “I [the narrator] am a Bokononist” (2). After tiresome research, I came to the conclusion that Bokononism remains a fictional religion practiced only by certain characters in Vonnegut’s work. Despite its made-up core, Bokononism’s views seem to pass as a practical religion. For example, Vonnegut writes that the founder of Bokononism, Bokonon, sees anyone as a fool who “thinks he sees what God is Doing” (5). One can compare this quote to the verse in the Bible when Solomon writes, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, And lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Both excerpts mean the same thing: humans should not attempt to fathom God’s plan but instead should trust in His ways. This comparison expresses the possible validity in certain Bokononist views. Later on in Vonnegut’s novel, Bokonon makes the metaphorical claim that “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God” (63). Although seemingly silly, this Bokonon quote makes me think about the value and learning experience of travelling “off the beaten path.” One can find examples of this simply by reading a peculiar book or watching an abnormal movie. Despite Vonnegut’s interesting invention of a religion, however, what is the author’s purpose in creating this fictitious religion within his book? Although very interesting and ironically inspiring at points, I question the necessity of the writer’s hard work in developing such an abstract theology. It surprises me that Vonnegut would go through the time and hassle of creating an entirely new religion from scratch in a book that centers on the first atom bomb. By doing this however, Vonnegut captures the attention of readers interested in science as well as theology to persuade them to affirm their own views on these two worldwide debates.  

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Here I Come Hollywood

            Why has Hollywood not created a movie after the Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, written by Tom Franklin? The book includes everything a mediocre Hollywood film needs: an interesting plot, relationships that need fixing, and an ending so perfect that even the stone-faced will shed a tear. However, I ironically do not like the ending of the book due to my inability to see past logical reasoning and realism. For example, the character Silas Jones underwent a 25 year span without informing the law about the information he knew on the case of the murder of Cindy Walker. In doing so, he threw another man, Larry, at the pit of societal scrutiny, destroying Larry’s life for a quarter century. As the story unravels, the reader learns that Larry and Jones share the same father. However, instead of Jones receiving punishment for the unimaginable acts he did to his own brother, Jones becomes “a hero” in Chabot, Mississippi (254). Did Jones not commit a crime comparable to that of the famous Penn State legend, Joe Paterno? By keeping their mouths shut and not notifying the police with knowledge to a crime, Jones and Paterno practically ruined people’s lives. For his actions, Paterno received life in prison which leads to his almost immediate death. Foiling Paterno, Jones becomes a hero. I have trouble believing that if Franklin’s novel proved nonfiction, Jones’s future would mirror his outcome in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I also do not enjoy the ending of Franklin’s book due to Franklin’s repetition of miracles. For instance, after Jones receives a bite from a dog, a doctor informs him that “It’s amazing you’re alive” (253). I know many people that received dog bites in the past, including myself. I also know that all of these victims never came close to dying. How fortunate that Jones’s bite came so close to killing him but never finished the deal. Franklin again describes a miracle of how the character Larry had a bullet shot at him that “just missed” his heart, which then caused Larry to have “a heart attack and then your [Larry’s] organs shut down” (211). For someone to endure these things and live to tell the tale, they must possess a bit of Superman in them. Although maybe it just happened to be a convenient coincidence…again. Franklin writes to entertain those who love happy, sappy endings which proves why I did not enjoy the ending to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Certain Style

            I do not take pride in my movie watching ability. In fact, I try to refrain from watching movies that necessitate complex thinking with other people in order to avoid embarrassment. The plot flies over my head and I remain more confused during the end credits than I did during the introduction. In saying this, I find it mind boggling that I predicted a major event in the novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter written by Tom Franklin, 70 pages before it happened. For this reason, Franklin’s structuring of his novel does not appeal to my liking as well as his repetitive use of pathos. The author attempts to grab the reader’s attention in the first chapter of his book, detailing out the murder of the character, Larry Ott. However, with no background information on Larry Ott, Franklin uses diction unfamiliar to the reader that creates a tone of confusion and bewilderment. For example, in the first sentence of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Franklin describes how Larry returned home to find “a monster waiting in his house” (1). Is this a metaphorical phrase? Or maybe the monster happens to take the form of a dreaded piece of parchment or bill for example? Perhaps Franklin means that the boogeyman awaited Larry’s return home? Instead of sparking interest within the minds’ of his readers, Franklin creates a jumbled mess of puzzlement. The novelist also decides to jump between past and present day and also between the different perspectives between characters. For example, Franklin concludes chapter eight with the words: “There it was…a place where someone had dug, he realized, a grave” (157). The reader flips the page in apprehension, only to discover a shift in the author’s perspective. Franklin utilizes this peculiar style often within his novel: stopping a chapter right before a climax only to have the same event recapped in a later chapter. This constant discouragement establishes frustration towards the author’s style. Although discouraged, I cannot help but hold in a sob every few pages or so. Franklin describes an event from when the young character, Silas Jones, stood by his mother on the side of a street in the dead of winter with little clothing: “I’m cold, Momma, I want to go back” (105). Franklin utilizes pathos towards the character Larry Ott as well, explaining how his mother has “forgotten her name” from Alzheimer’s disease (159). One cannot help but feel sympathetic towards most of the characters in the Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, therefore not depicting a distinct protagonist and antagonist. Franklin’s style of writing confuses the audience’s feelings towards certain characters as well as complicates the plot by structuring his book in a non chronological way.   The author writes to civilized Americans to think before they criticize because one does not know the troubles a person may deal with.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chip Off the Old Block?

                Many people think the father-son relationship as simple, or even effortless. Boys seem straightforward enough; they enjoy food, girls, and sports. How hard can it be for a father to raise his son? Tom Franklin addresses this question by depicting the life of a troubled young boy and his relationship with an overly aggressive father in his novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Franklin’s novel jumps between years from the 1970’s to present day. Taking place in rural Mississippi, the Ott family experienced the horrors of poverty, racism and murder in their southern small town, Chabot. Due to the utilization of pathos and the racist views held by Mr. Ott, I favor the boy’s side in his confliction with his father. Life always came hard to young Larry Ott. With the help of asthma, glasses, an oversize belly and a passion for books, Larry could never find the approval of his father, Carl. After his father dropped him off for school each day, Larry attempted to bond with Carl through pleasant goodbyes, yet his father would give “barely a glance” in return (43). Franklin’s description of Carl and Larry’s relationship strives on his utilization of pathos. By referring to his son as “boy,” his son that not only has physical problems but also social problems, one cannot help but mold the character Larry into the protagonist while creating Carl as the antagonist (83). Franklin develops Larry as an immaculate character, constantly using a tone of innocence and politeness. Through the angelic diction of calling his father names like “Daddy” and “Sir,” Franklin easily establishes Larry into a likable character (83). The novelist continues to destroy Carl’s reputation in the eye’s of the reader by depicting him as a racist. Carl remains at ease when using terms like “nigger” or “colored men” to title certain people in his town (89). Even though Carl lives during the 1970’s, terms like these remain offensive towards decent readers. Although Larry greatly resembles the character Piggy from The Lord of the Flies, Franklin ironically evolves this lonesome figure into a lovable boy through untimely situations and unlucky circumstances. I am interested to see what the author will do with the support he has created towards the character Larry. Will Franklin use this alliance between readers and Larry to put a twist on the novel in pages to come? Will the author ease the tension in the hearts of father’s reading his book by ending this corrupt relationship?