Life is a Dance

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I generally don’t dance. Not at weddings, not at parties, not anywhere. It used to be my absolute rule. Dancing is awkward. You don’t know where to put your hands or what exactly to do with your feet. You can make a fool of yourself. Avoid it. It’s a good rule…except for when people tried to change your mind.

Our long time family friend has a hoedown every fall on his several acre farm. There are enormous tire swings made from tractor tires and a bonfire that once reached a record height of 33 feet high and food and laughing and square dancing and a hayride through the property and if you show up without a cowboy hat one will be provided for you at the door.

Square dancing.

I take pictures.

But one year, I was listening to the caller, who was barely understandable with his fake southern accent, and enjoying my hot apple cider when a voice interrupted me.

“Would you like to dance with me?”

I jumped, sloshing my cider over the rim of my cup and onto the hay-covered barn floor dangerously close to his feet. Normally I laughed invitations off kindly or flat out refused. But this time, for whatever reason, I said, “Sure.”

It was the worst dance of my life.

It was awkward and jumbled and I didn’t know what to do or where to go and at one point I jabbed him in the stomach with my elbow. I was completely out of my comfort zone.

It was the best dance of my life.

Dancing is a lot like love and life. You don’t know what to do and sometimes you make mortifying mistakes for the whole world to see and sometimes it clicks and something beautiful is born.

It all depends on your partner. Choose wisely.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Book Review

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Zora Neale Hurston covers many themes in her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. She writes about the concept of God, searching for love, marriage, and other relationships. Perhaps her most significant theme, however, is that of independence. Throughout the course of the novel, Janie is always searching for her own character and identity, which she believes she will find through a man’s love, but her value is actually inside of her own soul.

Janie is 17 when she first marries Logan Killicks; she is starry-eyed and dreams of affection and romance. She quickly realizes that Logan will not satisfy her expectations; he is older than she is and has no use for romantic love. When the marriage proves to be less than she expected, she begins to dream of and search for another way to fulfill the void in her heart. Joe Starks comes along, and she believes she will find love and fulfillment in him. She leaves Logan and runs off to “marry” Joe.

Her relationship with Joe also proves to be less than desirable, however. In the beginning before they run away together, Joe is full of promises, bright ambitions, and charisma. These aspects rapidly change after he becomes mayor; he controls and oppresses her, to the point that she is never allowed to wear her down. He always wants her to have it wrapped up in a handkerchief. After he dies of kidney failure, Janie lets her hair fall freely and begins to obtain a little bit of independence and identity. She sees herself as a grown woman and runs the store successfully on her own. She continues in this way until Tea Cake comes along, and her life changes drastically again because of her desire to have a man’s love and attention.

Unlike her first two husbands, Tea Cake is flirty, charming, and pays Janie the attention she has craved since she first allowed Johnny Taylor to kiss her at the gate when she was a child. Even he, however, does not represent the perfect love that she has been searching for. They have a nice relationship in the beginning; he is flattering and adventurous and makes her feel excited, but he also proves to have major faults. He beats Janie, despite the fact that he admits she has done nothing wrong or to anger him. He says he beats her because he wants to prove that he is in control. He also leaves her and spends the $200 that she had earned and hidden when she ran away with him, spending it on throwing a party so that he can know what it feels like to be rich. When he goes mad from the bite he received from a rabid dog, Janie is forced to either kill him or lose her own life. Tea Cake’s death, at the hand of Janie, is symbolic; she is now free to live her own life, and she made the decision to do so, even though it is heartbreaking.

Janie does not feel bound in any way to her first two husbands, as evidenced by the fact that she left Logan and did not really mourn after Joe’s death. On the other hand, she desperately loves Tea Cake and the lavish attention he pours out on her. She does not realize that theirs is not a healthy relationship either, however. Hurston begins the story with Janie returning home and reveals the rest of the story in a flashback because it is symbolic; the end of Tea Cake and Janie’s relationship is actually the beginning of Janie’s new life, in which she can become her own person and realize that her identity is not found in being Logan and Joe’s wife, or even the center of Tea Cake’s affection. Janie realizes this at the end of the story after she tells Pheoby what happened. She looks forward to discovering what it means to live her own life in a world that she alone can discover for herself. Her worth is found not in a man loving her, but in in the strength of her character, and in all of the hardships she has overcome throughout the course of her life.

The Solitary Creeper: Wordsworth From a Woman’s Perspective

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I can’t help but wonder what Wordsworth’s poem The Solitary Reaper would look like if it had been written by the woman’s perspective. (Click here for the original poem first if you’re not familiar with it. Or else, you know, this won’t be funny and you’ll just think I’m crazy.)

The Solitary Creeper

I stand here, single in the field,

A solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by myself;

I spot him in the grass.

Alone he sneaks—oh girls, beware—

And gives a melancholy stare.

O listen! Pining on on the ground,

The field overflows with sound

No nightingale did ever chaunt

More noisy notes to present tense

He believes that I don’t see him haunt

Poor soul. He’s so very dense.

A voice so grating ne’er was heard

From the peacock to the magpie bird

Breaking the quiet of the day

By stalking me. Oh, happy day.

Will he not tell me what he wills?

Perhaps he’s playing hide and seek

Or seeking something in the hills?

Get me far from this geek.

Why should he stand there, stare at me?

It takes self-restraint not to flee.

Maybe he’s lonely, or wants a wife?

Dude—no. You need to get a life.

What’er the cause, this maiden knows

Dating creepers means tragic endings

So I continue at my work,

Hope it’s bad signals that I’m sending

And breathe a sigh of sweet relief

When he slinks away like a thief.

But the creeped-out feeling I still bore

Long after he was seen no more.

A Rant on Religion and Reindeer

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(Heck yeah, alliteration.)

Oh, religion. It’s such a funny thing.

I don’t like it very much.

Because here’s the thing: religion doesn’t save you. Religion doesn’t make you a good person. I’ve met Muslims who displayed the love of Jesus better than some Christians. I’ve been snubbed and disdained by Jewish people because of my belief in Jesus as the Messiah, only to be welcomed with love and acceptance by atheists.

I took a Diversity in American Literature class during the last semester of my undergrad. We talked all semester long about the danger and pointlessness of ethnocentrism: the belief that one’s culture is better than anyone else’s. As a culture, we frown at racism, sexism, and classism, but we don’t hesitate to damn each other to hell if our religious beliefs differ.

Do I have certain aspects of my belief system that I follow? Absolutely. I didn’t create this post to talk about those points. (Believe me, it’d take more than a post. I’m kind of complicated.) It’s also not to talk about salvation issues. This post is (going to attempt) to point out how stupid it is to mock other people because of their belief system.

I’ve never understood hating or mocking someone because of what they believe. I can disagree with someone (strongly!) and still be able to have an open, respectful conversation. I’m always blindsided when I overhear rants about stupid Christians and their barbaric belief in human sacrificing. I don’t understand telling atheists or Muslims or Catholics that they’re going to go to hell for their beliefs. It doesn’t solve anything. It just further alienates one human being from another.

I recently read a book in which two characters were talking about the discord between Palestinians and Israelis. “Why so much hate between relatives?” one questions.

“It’s because we haven’t learned much from the prophets and hardly anything about the rules of life,” the other responds.

“Then what’s to be done?”

“Give God back His freedom. He’s been hostage to our bigotries too long.”

Here’s the deal:

I’ll respect someone’s views as an atheist.

I won’t respect the fact that he/she shames, berates, and mocks people who do believe in God.

I’ll respect someone’s views as a Christian.

I won’t respect the fact that he/she self-righteously condemns other non-Christians, going against everything Jesus stood for.

I’ll respect someone’s views as an _______ (fill in the blank with any religion)

I won’t respect the fact that he/she supports extremist ideas or beliefs that injure themselves and other people, or views certain individuals as lower than others.

I’ll respect reindeers.

I won’t respect the fact that they bully and exclude another reindeer simply because of his red, shiny nose.

It’s as simple as that.

The House On Mango Street: A Book Review

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Sandra Cisneros writes about many different aspects in her coming-of-age story The House on Mango Street. In a series of charming vignettes, Cisneros writes about the life, thoughts, and escapades of Esperenza Cordero, a little girl growing up in Chicago. She is able to write so in a way that draws the reader in and makes the characters and tales memorable, even though the book is split up into small chunks of stories. Some of the sections deal with deeper issues than merely a young girl’s whims, however. Cisneros frequently writes about people in her culture who are marginalized, particularly women through the voice of her character Esperenza.

Very early on in the beginning of the book, Esperenza tells the story of her great-grandmother and great-grandfather’s marriage. She was named after her great-grandmother, but she does not want to live the same life as she was forced to live. Her great-grandmother was wild and did not want to get married, so Esperenza’s great-grandfather kidnapped her and forced her into the marriage. Esperenza does not want to live forever looking out the window sadly, as her great-grandmother (and so many other women in The House on Mango Street) is forced to do. Esperenza goes on to tell the story of a woman named Marin, who says she is going to move to Puerto Rico to marry her boyfriend. While in Chicago, however, her life consists of trying to attract the attention of all the boys so that she can have a fairytale romance, which will change her life. She also talks about Alicia, who is struggling after the death of her mother to care for her younger siblings, attend college, and live with her abusive father. Perhaps one of the most tragic stories of all, however, is that of Rafaela, who gets locked in her apartment whenever her husband leaves because he is afraid she will run away. Esperenza and her friends buy her juice when she sends a dollar down to them. Sally, a beautiful girl and friend of Esperenza’s is beaten by her father. Esperenza tells of women who are not valued.

Another significant theme in Cisnero’s writings is that of sadness and how to cope with it. Many of the women in the story feel trapped and helpless, but they are not the only ones who are affected negatively by the up’s and down’s of life. Esperenza remembers a night when her Papa came home to say that his father is dead, and she is upset and unsure what to do when he cries about it. Esperenza also remembers a story about listening to her mother remember how smart she used to be, but she dropped out of school because of vanity; she did not have nice clothes. She regrets this decision, but cannot do anything about it because so much time has passed and she is busy raising a family now.

Although many (if not most) of Cisnero’s stories have a sad tone or message behind them, Esperenza (whose very name means hope) does not give up. She continues to hope, dream and look forward to having a home and a place to call her own. She sees past the racism, marginalization, and abuse that people (especially women) in her culture experience. She imagines a bright future in which she can be her own person and live her life as she wants it to be lived.