Peace Out – Self Promotion and a Booklist

As my final post for this blog, I would like to direct my friends and followers to the blog I’ve decided to start in earnest. It’s called Jane Eyre’s Legacy or legacyofjane.wordpress.com. I plan to put up book and movie reviews, thoughts on life, and other random theories and thoughts that I’d like to share. When I finally get published it’ll probably become my writer’s blog as well. As of right now there is nothing on it, but I’m working on a post about Sula by Toni Morrison and I plan to blog about each of the books I read this summer.

If you want to be facebook friends just hit me up, but there are a lot of Megan McLaughlin’s. My Tumblr is the-me09.tumblr.com. I’m always down to talk about books and writing and this has been a fantastic semester – in this class at least. Thank you all so much for being awesome!

And now a list of the books I plan to read in the next few weeks:

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Beautiful Creatures 1-3 by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Unnatural, Unwelcome, and Unafraid by Michael Griffo

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Infinities by John Banville

Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and how to reverse it) by Robert D. Lupton

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

I could go on and on, but I think that’s a pretty good list so far. If you follow my blog you’ll see opinions and reviews on these books and if you follow my tumblr you might see some liveblogging, which boggles my mind when reading, but I’m gonna try it.

Thanks everyone! Good Luck with your futures!

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FanFiction in the Classroom – MultiGenre Essay

            I decided to put my multi-genre essay here on my blog. I was going to just give a gloss of it, but I figured I made my arguments more clearly than a simple overview would. If anyone wants to read the fanfic that accompanied my paper an older version is HERE. Though I’m attaching a warning right now that it contains a graphic male/male/male sex scene. Without further ado, my essay~

Fanfiction in the Classroom

            The problem of how to teach English as something that is not intimidating and daunting has troubled Humanities scholars for quite some time. In the upper echelons we all seem to want students to read more and to enjoy reading, but no one really seems to know how to achieve that within a classroom setting. I have a radical solution. Teach the writing of fanfiction in high school English classes.

In elementary school the texts were simpler, easier to enjoy, and teaches merely wanted students to comprehend the novel as well as a few themes. In elementary school, people are still concerned with making things engaging and interesting. In my third grade class we encountered a text with an ambiguous ending; The Giver by Lois Lowry, standard fare for elementary English. Our assignment in relation to the text was to rewrite or re-imagine the ending. We could continue the story or change the ending to make it more concrete, it was a creative assignment. Why can’t we teach high school students in this same manner?

I’d like to take a moment to define a few terms that will be used throughout the paper. Fanfiction or fanfic, the main topic, is a narrative work that is created by a fan of a text (i.e. a novel, film, or television show) which uses the characters of the text in order to tell a new story or revisit aspects of the original. Slash fanfiction refers to fanfic in which the main romantic storyline is between two males from the text. Fandom is the community (often an online one) where fanfic and fan-art can be uploaded and shared with others.

One of the main challenges of teaching high school English is the difficulty of the texts. Students seem disengaged with the texts, they often dislike them and think they are either boring or intimidating. Assigning fanfiction as an assignment in conjunction with essays could be a step towards making Canonical texts more approachable. “It [fanfiction] takes us away from the notion of texts as static, isolated objects and instead reminds us that storyworlds are generated and experienced within specific social and cultural environments that are subject to constant change,” (Bronwen). The act of composing a fanfic would give students a sense of power over the text. It would help to drive home the idea that there are no wrong answers. The teachers wouldn’t be the ultimate authority on the text, students could write anything that they can trace back to some line or thought in the novel.

Contemporary high school English classes do not teach literary theory. There have been reams and reams of essays on the subject, but the high schools do not seem willing to incorporate the teaching of theoretical concepts. Without theory, how are we supposed to teach students how to justify and compose an essay? A freshman in high school once tried to tell me that literary essays were not persuasive essays because in a persuasive essay there would be other points of view to introduce in your argument before you provide a rebuttal. That is how English essays should be, if the students were being engaged with other writers of literary studies. If we were to teach fanfiction, we could slyly begin to teach the easiest component of structuralist theory; Narratology. For example, the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is told from the main character’s perspective, but if teachers were to assign a creative project that involved rewriting a scene of The Catcher in the Rye from a different point of view, we could show the importance of Holden Caufield’s narrative to the meaning we are supposed to derrive from the text. We could introduce the concept of the unreliable narrator. This could possibly give the students a point to rally around when it comes time to write their essay. A deeper understanding of the text could have been reached through writing fanfic about it. This would begin the task of slipping high school students literary theory – like an illicit drug – and asking them to engage with the text on a deeper level. They would not merely be re-presenting what the teacher said about symbols, but presenting the knowledge they came to by way of their own writing.

Common tenets of high school essays are symbols, motifs, and themes, and sometimes characterization or character studies are included as a valid subject. Any one of these could be taken and turned into a prompt for fanfiction to promote deeper consideration of a text.  Creating a fanfic using the symbolism of the original novel in new ways might be quite the challenge, but it certainly would show whether or not a student understood symbolism as a narrative function. For example, in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald there is a scene in which the narrator – Nick Carraway – watches and speculates upon Gatsby as Gatsby gazes at a green light across the water. A fanfiction rewriting of this scene from Gatsby’s point of view and his thoughts upon what that green light means to him might make it easier for students to write an essay about that same green light later without having the help of other theorists in which to engage on the topic. It would be easy to tell in the fanfic if the student/writer understood what the light was supposed to symbolize. And because this would be a creative assignment, there would (hopefully) not be the same fear of the ‘wrong’ answer that there would be when writing an essay. “Fan fiction is a way of interacting with text, converting it from a read-only medium to a read/write one.” (Rosenblatt). Converting a text to a read/write medium would help students no longer believe there is only one right answer. There are multitudes of ways a story can be told, and thus, its meaning can be an array of different things. Creative writing will give students the freedom to explore their ideas of a novel in less of a reader response manner.

Asking students to write fanfiction would promote and inspire deeper reading. An English teacher in England attempted to use fanfiction writing to teach about narrative. We could benefit from this example.

                 “My approach, when creating a unit of work for Year 9, which ran for approximately seven weeks, was to integrate the skills-based work that is so essential to teaching the craft of narrative writing with tasks that explored fanfiction codes and conventions. These included activities such as creating a voice for a character that mimicked their voice in the actual, established text, looking closely at the style of writing of different authors (including Antony Horowitz, Jane Austen and JK Rowling) and doing short descriptive or narrative tasks such as drabble writing (perhaps more familiar to English teachers as the ‘Mini-Saga’).” (Jessop).

This practice of teaching common codes and conventions would later help students in their University work, by giving them a way to decode and pick apart a text. Decoding is an important aspect of both Structuralism and Deconstructionist literary theories. By giving students this base knowledge we could prepare them better for English essays written in the University setting. This is what college prep courses in high school aim to do, so teaching fanfiction would be beneficial on many different levels.

The teaching of fanfiction could also lead to teaching students how to research. What I mean by that is, a student couldn’t write a fanfic set in the era of Gatsby in the 1920’s but the characters have cellphones. The student could certainly write a modern alternate universe update of The Great Gatsby, but if they were to write a fanfic set in the 1920’s they would have to adhere to the technological limits of the era. Going back further, if one were to write a fanfic of Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, one would have to adhere to certain codes of speech as well. People did not refer to each other by first names back then and so having someone address Hester Pryne by her first name alone would be highly improper. It would be important to let students know of these slight restrictions and then give them sources by which to research the era’s if they need to. It would be a way of teach history and narrative at the same time. Though this might intimidate students more, thus it should only be a small part of the assignment, or there should be only one assignment that focuses mainly on historical accuracy.

            In conclusion, it would be beneficial to students, in a myriad of ways, to study texts through the medium of writing their own fanfiction. Writing fanfiction would be a way to introduce aspects of literary theories, such as Narratology within the Structuralist theory, and to make students more comfortable with texts that are usually considered intimidating. Fanfiction could help them learn how to compose better supported essays. Fanfiction writing would ask students to consider texts on a deeper level, exploring its characters, themes, and narrative style. Isn’t that all we want from English students?

Bibliography

Bronwen, Thomas. “What is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?.” StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies 3.1 (2011): 1-24. Project Muse. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Davies, Raven. “The Slash Fanfiction Connection to Bi Men.” Journal of Bisexuality 5.2 (2005): 195-202. Taylor Francis Online. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Jessop, Fay. “Exploring Fandom: teaching narrative writing through fanfiction: Fay Jessop argues for the place of fanfiction in the writing curriculum, and suggests that getting students to write fanfiction removes some of the fear of original writing, whilst giving status to their own interests in reading and viewing..” English Drama Media 18 (2010): 29. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Manente, Kristina. “Validation of Internet Fandom: Bridging the Gap between Traditional Fandom and the Age of Tumblr.” The Baker Street Journal 62.4 (2012): 44-48. Literature Online. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature. Second ed. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Reid, Robin Anne. “Thrusts in the Dark: Slashers Queer Practices.” Extrapolation 50.3 (2009): 463. General OneFile. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Rosenblatt, Betsy. “Sherlock Holmes Fan Fiction.” The Baker Street Journal 62.4 (2012): 33-43. Literature Online. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

Stedman, Kyle D. “Remix Literacy and Fan Compositions.” Computers and Composition 29.2 (2012): 107-123. Science Direct. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.

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Reflections on Graphic Works – A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about the difference between a written work and a drawn/graphic work, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. As English Majors, we talk a lot about symbolism in written works, novel and/or memoir. We assume that the writer chose certain words for deliberate affect. I assume the same too, at times.

But what I’ve discovered through sharing my work and reading the creative works of others is that symbolism, or ‘deeper meaning’ isn’t always something a writer does on purpose. When editing and rewriting a piece, there is the deliberate desire to achieve a certain affect, of course, but what a reader takes from the book/novel/memoir/short story is entirely subjective and singular to that person. Can multiple readers get the same thing from the same text, yes, it’s possible, but with writing, the language mediates the writer’s thoughts. We only have so much language available to us, and all of it contains connotations for readers that the writer simply can’t know. There is always a curtain between the writer and the reader, and that is the language.

How does this relate to Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis?

Because Satrapi uses pictures more than words to convey her experiences growing up in Iran and then Austria, we can assume that more of her work is deliberate. More deliberate than that of a memoir only using written words. Satrapi had to think about every event she wanted to depict and then frame it in such a way as to convey more meaning to us than simply what the words accompanying the illustration told us. As discussed in class, simply using pictures taken with a camera would be from an objective point of view, but we have these illustrations filtered through Satrapi’s own mind.  What I’m saying is that though there is still a curtain between the writer/illustrator and the reader, this one seems less substantial. It might even be transparent.

So I guess there’s something to that phrase “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

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Persepolis 2 – Assimilation or Identity Crisis?

In class on Monday we were trying to figure out how much of Marjane’s experience in Austria was assimilation friction and how much was just awkward adolescence. I think we came to an agreement that it was a little bit of both. I think some of us have a problem calling it assimilation because it’s seen as a bad thing, a type of colonizer evil thing. But I think it is hard to call it assimilation because Marji had an unstable baseline culture/cultural identity. I think it was more of an existential crisis mixed with trauma in a period of life – adolescence – when everything has the potential to be emotionally traumatizing.

In Marji’s lifetime she saw a more progressive Iran, then protests and rebellions and then there was a step backwards with the enforced wearing of the veil and the emergence of a fundamentalist regime. So Marji, during her 14 years in Iran was always sort of at odds with the majority of her culture. I would say her time in Vienna is less assimilation and more like an identity crises. It’s hard to assimilate when your own cultural identity is so unstable.

The only incident that comes to mind where we could argue about assimilation and its effects is when Marji and her friends are on a ski trip. (Page 116 in my book). They start talking about sex and Marji is the only one who has had sex. Her friends start asking questions, but when they find out she’s had “a few experiences” one asks her “So what’s the difference between you and a whore???” About this incident Marji says “To them, I had become a decadent Western woman.”

This juxtaposes the scene earlier in the book where Julie and Marji are talking about boys and sex and Marji is shocked that Julie has had sex and that she was proud of it. This could be taken as a moment when Marjane is reflecting that she had become more of a “western woman” than a true Iranian woman. It’s true that if she hadn’t traveled to Austria her perceptions of sex and sexuality might be similar to or the same as her friends who stayed in Iran. However, can we call that assimilation? She merely grew up in a different culture during a formative period of her life.

Not only did she have a hard time assimilating in Austria, but once she returned to Iran she still stood out. I would argue, as stated earlier, that her problems were less of an assimilation issue and more of an identity crisis. I think this is shown most clearly when she has make-up on in public and saves her own ass by accusing an innocent man of harassing her. Would little Marji have ever done something like that? No, I don’t think so. Would we blame this change on Western influence? I don’t think that’s fair or reasonable. Marji didn’t just lose her culture when she went to Austria; she lost her support system and her sense of self. While being isolated in a culture that wasn’t her own certainly and obviously contributed to this loss of self, I don’t think assimilation was the problem in either case.

Sorry if this whole thing is a little confusing, I was thinking as I wrote. I tried to clean it up for posting but it still might have gaps to someone else.

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Religion and Politics in Persepolis

                I first encountered Persepolis as a freshman during the winter semester of 2010 in my Multicultural Children’s Literature class. We were required to read the graphic novel/memoir for our discussions and I remember enjoying it and wishing I’d bought part 2 of Marjane’s story. However, I also remember being confused as to when this was and what was actually happening in Iran. I think part of this confusion came from a lack of historical knowledge, but mostly I think it came from not paying good enough attention to the graphics part of the memoir. (Funnily enough, what little knowledge I gleaned that first time around helped me to decipher the cultural/historical significance of events in the recent movie Argo.)

                Now that I understand the cultural and historical time frame though, I can focus on deeper readings. In class today, we explored the subject of God as Marji’s imaginary friend and her relation to religion. While everyone was talking an idea was brewing, but I couldn’t quite give the thought a concrete form yet. After more reflections, I decided that what I wanted to say was that though Marji’s original relationship with God was one of innocence, by reflecting back on it through these memoirs, Marjane Satrapi has politicized her earlier faith.

                There are two distinct instances where Marjane has politicized her earlier beliefs, whether it was intentional or incidental, I’m not sure. The most obvious political/religious statement is her view that Karl Marx and God look alike. You can’t miss it; an entire page is devoted to the panels. This could mean any number of things, possibly that she modeled her version of God after the pictures of Karl Marx she saw in her comic book. It could be a statement that for some Karl Marx is a god and The Communist Manifesto a bible. It could be a reflection of how she thought back then, and doesn’t think that way any longer, who knows?

                I also think Marji’s statement about why she wants to be a prophet is politically charged. When composing a memoir like Persepolis, every panel is a thought put down purposefully. By giving the reader these very humane/social reasons for her desire to be a prophet Marji can be seen as making a statement that religion is a stronger force than politics when it comes to social change. Seeing as her parents aren’t particularly religious, it’s possible that this is an idea she came to later and merely used her memories as a vehicle to get that point across.

                In general, I think it is often difficult to separate politics and religion and Marji’s case is no different. Even if she didn’t intend it, her presentation of religion and what it meant to her, opens the conversation about politics and religion.

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The Future AKA What Now?

In class lately we’ve been talking about The Future. Now that I’m three weeks from graduation I have to face the fact that the ‘real world’ is out there, waiting to pounce. Paying back student loans and getting a real job and moving out of my parent’s house.

It’s enough to make a person have panic attacks.

I applied to four grad schools. Four very competitive programs for creative writing, not necessarily because I need a degree to become a writer, but because I wanted to stave off the real world with its loans and jobs. My thinking was that if I wasn’t going to the best school for my craft why go through this torture at all?

I’ve gotten responses from three of the four and they’re all rejections. Probably should have diversified a little more. The problem with rejections from grad school is that they’re more disappointing than disappointment from a publishing rejection. I have two short story rejections under my belt and I’m fine with that. The thing about graduate school is that they are rejecting you. They are rejecting that presentation of you. With a novel there’s a sort of buffer between you and the rejection, because you can always write a different story, or just submit to a different publisher. But even if you reapply to the same grad school (Boston University said “students have gotten in on their third try – and flourished”) it’s still you, and there are only so many credentials you can rack up in a years’ time when you’re not in school and don’t have those opportunities.

Thankfully, there’s a plan B in the works for me. A new e-publisher is hiring and I’m going to apply. The pay isn’t living wages, but it’s online, so I can do it from anywhere. I think it’ll be worth the sub-par salary because it would 1) give me experience in my field 2) give me an inside look at what publishers want in a writer and 3) it would give me a better look at the publishing process.

All that’s left is to rearrange my CV and compose a cover letter. Any tips?

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High School English Today: A Case Study (Long Post)

In class we’ve talked a lot about how English and Literature are taught in schools in America. Many of the articles, memoirs, and arguments we’ve read have been from quite a while ago. Experiences from the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and up to the early two-thousands, but what I’d like to do is compare my experience of ninth grade English (2005-2006) and my younger brother Riley’s experience (2012-2013).

When I was in ninth grade English we had a very rounded schedule. We had spelling tests (which may not necessarily be as helpful as we think); we read short stories, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as a few novels. We had creative writing assignments and did a lot of reading as well as writing, both creative and critical. I don’t remember a lot of it, but it was well rounded and I felt adequately prepared when I went on to tenth grade English and further.

Riley, however, has not had the same experience. He often complains about his English class, and while this may be partly a product of his already well known dislike of English, I can’t help but think if I had to take this English class I would hate it too.

The third out of four semesters has just finished and Riley encountered his first novel of the class. That means, that for the first two semesters they did not read anything considered ‘literature.’ Most of the focus, from what I understand, was preparation for passing the ACT in their junior year. That’s two years away, and certainly, if we take Hirsch’s ideas of cultural literacy to be true, then reading ‘literature’ from the accepted canon would certainly do better than trying to drill ‘reading comprehension skills’ into them.

It seems that they focused on reading short passages and answering questions about it, short assignments that tested their reading comprehension. If the testing was only to see how far along their comprehension was in order to structure the readings at a different pace that would be admirable, but it isn’t, and has persisted through the year.

They did learn how to format an MLA paper and write a proper bibliography, which is important, but when my brother needed to print his assignment, I got a glance at it. What were they writing their paper on? A short story maybe? A novella? No, that would be far too English; they were writing what would qualify as a history paper on Napoleon Bonaparte. I was enraged. I can only assume that the teacher did this because if they wrote a paper on a novella or short story, they would have to have more sources put on their bibliography than just the book. God forbid they read any criticism.

More recently, as in this past Tuesday the twenty-sixth, Riley was filling out a worksheet to help him format a paper on the novella they (finally) read; Of Mice and Men. It was structured to help him put together the basics of an essay, with a line for a thesis statement, and lines to state a topic sentence for each paragraph. It looked like a fairly helpful paper.

The problem was the subject they were supposed to write about. The four options listed on the paper were themes, characterization, symbols, and motifs. Riley had chosen the hardest of the four to write about (again, only if you haven’t done any research or read any criticism), symbols. His topic sentence was along the lines of “there are many symbols in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.” I told him that was fairly weak, but what else can you put when you don’t have any notion of how you’re supposed to write about a book?

One of his points/topic sentences was “rabbits symbolize death” for Lenny or something like that. It was so weak and he was/is unsure how to back up his points. When I asked him why the rabbits symbolize death, or how, he replied with ‘I dunno that’s what the teacher said.’ We talked for a little while, but I couldn’t help him much without either getting angry or pointing him to some criticism.

When I talked to him a few hours ago about his paper, he mentioned he chose the hardest topic because there are only four symbols in the novella. Only four symbols.

And now I’ve come full circle in my discussion, more proof that teachers are teaching in a way so as to limit the mind rather than expand it. I told Riley that anything could be a symbol for anything else with the right evidence.

This teacher is young and new, and his methods are the least ‘English’ of all the teachers at the school. I believe it was Graff who pointed out the idiocy of teaching students to write papers without being exposed to criticism. I don’t understand why people think criticism would be too hard, you could simplify the theories enough so that a class of high school freshmen could understand it. It doesn’t matter if it is simplified, because if they go on in their English career they will gain a deeper understanding of the concepts, and those who don’t go further than high school with their English will have a rudimentary understanding of these critical theories, which can only help them.

Does anyone have any theories as to when or how we should teach high school students critical theories? I didn’t even learn them in my AP English class, but I can’t help but think that would help one to write a better essay. Or maybe you can see some reasons why we wouldn’t teach criticism, even in a rudimentary form.

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