Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sherman Alexie: Storyteller

I attended Sherman Alexie's lecture last week and it was awesome. Very funny and pretty insightful. I found his comment that "Political Correctness has made racists into poets" interesting, and I can understand what he means. At some point, every euphamism becomes just as hateful as the term it replaces. As a non-involved white person, I thought the comments about the Crow were a little harsh, but then I don't have any cultural context. On the other hand, my aunt is Chippewa-Cree and she can't stand the Crow, just on general principle, so I suppose there is a certain amount of historical tribal warfare still at work.

Of course, I'm an outsider looking in, not being a member of the Ameican Indian community, but this in no way detracted from Alexie's storytelling abilities. He was a master of digression and diversion, and managed to weave what was essentially one stroy through the entire evening. "So I'm on the airplane" reappeared every fifteen minutes or so after a pretty substantial discussion of something else. For instance: cheekbones, poetry, sickness, and the possibility of regurgitating a whole and perfect cantaloupe ball despite the fact you can't remember eating cantaloupe any time recently.

Ultimately the main story was about memory as well. He told the story of his efforts to get his grandfather's war medals reissued and how the memory of a man he never even met so affected his life and that of his father. The emotion when he discussed recieving the medals was incredible. My life is very different from Sherman Alexie's. Very different. But my dad's is remarkably similar to some of the stories in Alexie's family. My father lost his dad when he was 5, not to war but to a heart attack brought on by weakened heart muscles caused by consuming tainted milk as a child. Mr. Alexie was right when he said there's no childhood after that .

My dad grew up really poor. They had an outhouse until he was four. He was the man of the house as soon as his father died, at the age of five, because he was the only one bringing income into the house through veteran's benefits and Social Security. It became a personal battle for my dad to prove he could over come. My dad grew up poor and has become the most educated and wealthiest member of his family. I have a cousin in Deer Lodge with a proclivity for meth labs. I could relate to Mr. Alexie even through our lives were so significantly different. That is probably the truest gift of a magnificent storyteller.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


I struggled, big time, with what to do for the paper in this class. It needed to be entertaining- to me at least- and informative. I couldn't decide on anything. Finally I started going through my books and remembered I had always intended to memorize Jabberwocky.

Not only that, but the poem, upon closer examination, is an eminently oral text. Doing research, I even discocvered that Carroll originally concieved of the poem as a faux fragment of Anglo-Saxon Poetry. How perfect.

Alliteration, onomatopoeia, kennings, preformance, portmanteaus, hypertextuality: it's all there baby! The paper seem to come pretty easily, though I don't know HOW I'm gonna present it.

As Alice said "It seems to fill me with ideas. ONly I'm not quite sure what they are."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Having watched everyone's performances, I want to give you all a big hand! Congrats! You were all magnificent. Also, Jennie, no one ever read "Oh The Places You'll Go" to me despite the fact that I did graduate high school, so thank you for filling that deficiency. All the poems and stories were amazing, and I was impressed that no one duplicated on topic for Top 50. However, Stephanie is in trouble. How am I ever going to know the top 50 German cities now. If I got lost, it's entirely your fault.

We're reallyu winding down here (Papers on Thursday! AHHH!) So I want to thank all of you for making this such a memorable (get it? I'm so punny... Stop, now...) class. Looking forward to all your presentations!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Rolling Stone's Top 50

I chose to memorize the Rolling Stone Top 50 for a couple basic reasons: I love music and I thought it'd be easy. And I was right, it was easy. My memory theater was setup at my workplace this time, each artist designated as a foodstuff, topographical feature, or appliance. David Bowie was a blender. I especially liked that one.

As with the first time, I did not really begin the process until the day it was due. Now, part of this is attributable to the fact that I had no time, but I was also curious to see if something could be memorized so quickly. Undoubtedly the experience would be different with a story or poem, but this list only took me 3 tries to go through smoothly. Here's my process:

1. Attach loci to each item. Set aside until 2-3 hours before presentation.
2. Read over, and then hand to a friend or colleague.
3. Recite the list through, pausing for cues when the answer is elusive.
4. Recite the list through again, hopefully this time with fewer cues (Neil Young and the yogurt machine gave me a lot of trouble)
5. Recite the list through in reverse order
6. Have your partner pick, randomly, a loci and then continue from that point through the cycle.

This has worked really well for me. I only spent half as long on this recitation as I did for the MSU Top 100- which makes sense really...- but I think part of that was just having a good system.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Digital Photography

I've never really been one for the snap shot. I enjoy them, like looking at them, approve of the memories they preserve, but I can never bring myself to take them. I have film I haven't developed from many years back and I consider it no real loss.

However, this past Christmas, I recieved a digital camera. I'd asked for it, so it wasn't a bolt out of the blue. I decided that since I was going abroad, and I'd be taking many, multiple pictures, a digital camera made the best possible sense for enjoying and sharing my photos with friends and relations. And I certainly have been taking more pictures. They present such instant gratification and there is no wasted film since decisions on quality can be made in camera.

But this has made me profligate with photos. With a standard camera I can always decide that I really don't need a picture of the artfully draped and quickly fading Valentine's decorations. So a digital camera is far more like the human eye than that of the traditional camera which takes in images but has no ability to eliminate those images which prove poorly designed, badly shot, or- horrors- boring. In the eyes and mind of a human being bad shots, unappealing locations, everyday detritus are wiped away by the necessity of remembering other visions. A traditional photo developed will exist until its destruction- not necessarily so with a digital camera.

So to say that technology leads us farther and farther from the path of pure memory and orality its patently false in the case of the digital camera. The digital eye takes in an image, judges it, and then immortalizes or discards that image. Just like the natural eye.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I'm working with the Boundary group to present the Kane text. Of the chapters I've read in their entirety (admittedly only Pattern and Boundary) this is by far my favorite. It opens with an old Irish poem and then tells the story of "The Wooing of Etain". The chapter proper talks about the importance of the boundaries between the world of gods and mortals in all its various incarnations.

For the presentation we have decided to act out the wooing and then delve into the various aspects of boundary in the tale. It should be a rollicking good time.

I'm really interested to see what the other groups present, and I'd warn you all to take good notes as these presentationa are almost CERTAINLY what the final is going to be over- provided the test isn't cumulative. And even if it is, these will feature. Luckily, just like the classmate epic poems, these should stick in our memory even with out the aid of any kind of tangible theater.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ghosts and Memory

Searching through the modules list of my prospective university next year- Exeter- I came across a class titled "Ghosts, Death and Memory in Renaissance Drama". In a stroke of kismet, I'm also studying Hamlet currently, no doubt a play that would come up EXTENSIVLY in a class of that description.

There are a couple basic theories on ghosts- all of which appear in one for or another in Hamlet.

1. Ghosts are the spirits of dead people trying to communicate with the living, i.e. Hamlet calling for Hamlet to kill Claudius

2. Ghosts are demons sent to trick people, i.e. the guards' belief

3. Ghosts are illusions or hallucinations, i.e. Queen Gertrude's belief


4. Ghosts are the trapped energy of former occupants and operate as a kind of full motion memory- a camcorder version of events on a loop. This appears mostly as the effect that the ghost has on Hamlet. He must avenge his father, he must secure the kingdom against the usurper Claudius, but most of all, says the ghost, "Remember me."

Most interstingly of all, ghosts act like a kind of mnemonic device. An event with a ghost attached will be remembered long after the story's sordid history would otherwise be forgotten. So if you ever see a ghost, and I can't say that I have, try to remember whatever it is your supposed to remember :)