Posts by Elaine
Happy block break everyone! I definitely meant to write this post either last night or this morning, but found that I needed to give myself a little bit of a break before writing this! Although our final paper for this class was fairly short (especially since my last block ended with me writing my thesis), the idea of writing yet another something right after I finished my paper was more than I really wanted to do! Anywho, I hope you’ve all made it through the end of the block and can take some time to relax and rejuvenate before jumping into the last block of this school year!
We spent all of this week working on our final papers, so I don’t have much to talk about on the reading side of life! Over the weekend, we were originally supposed to read a novel called Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, but our professor decided to make that an extra credit assignment (read it and write a reflection) because we wouldn’t have the time to do the novel justice. I (along with quite a few of my classmates it sounds like) decided to read the book, mostly because I’ve quite enjoyed the readings for this class, but also in part because I was already part way through it! I can’t say it was my favorite thing we’ve read this block (that award probably has to go to Brando Skyhorse’s The Madonnas of Echo Park), but it was still an interesting read! Of all the books we read, this book and the collection of comics, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S dealt the most explicitly with sexuality. I didn’t spend any time comparing how the two works grapple with the issue, but it would definitely be a good thought experiment! They’re both somewhat gritty representations, but beyond that I don’t really have anything to say!
Our final day of class was a peer editing day. Whether intentional or not, I was partnered with another senior (not an English major though) and we’d both written our papers on the same short story. For all that it was a peer editing exercise, it was kind of exciting reading another paper about this particular short story. It’s all of ten pages, yet our papers went in two completely different directions! Although that can sometimes be a bit disconcerting, I think we both felt pretty good about it because we knew that at the very least, we’d picked a somewhat controversial, but definitely arguable thesis, which is kind of the whole point of those kinds of papers!
I hope you all have a wonderful week! With the class over, this is my last blog post, so thank you to everyone who has read it! I hope it’s been enjoyable and informative!
Now that we’ve reached the end of week 3, almost all of the reading is done (we have one last book to read this weekend), which seems kind of crazy to me! After spending several years on the block plan, you would think that I’d be used to how quickly blocks come to an end, but the end of this block has definitely snuck up on me (maybe because I was in a double-block at the start of the semester)! To all my fellow students out there, good luck with your fourth week! We’re in the home stretch!
The readings this week have had a very different feel from the readings of the previous weeks, and the texts for almost every other English course I’ve taken. We started off the week with a collection of comics, which was definitely a new experience for me! I’ve never really read comics, even as a kid, so it took some getting used to because there is a very different set of skills involved in reading comics, especially when you read them through a literary lens. Although it was hard work in the beginning, I found it much easier and therefore more enjoyable once I settled into the rhythm of reading comics. Not sure I necessarily want to read more comics, but I’m glad I had the chance to experience a different medium and now I have a better idea of how to read comics if I ever need to do that again!
On Tuesday, we had a much-needed day off to read. As often happens around this time of both the block and year, a bunch of people are dealing with various illnesses, which, when coupled with the workload of English classes, make time off incredibly valuable! Reading days give us all a chance to recharge a bit, which helps out our discussions for sure! I always enjoy reading days because I have the chance to sit and read a book basically straight through. While most people probably think that sounds like a somewhat torturous experience, I think it’s a really interesting way to read books every now and then. Reading a book in one sitting helps me see connections that I wouldn’t have made if I had broken the book up into segments to read at various times. So if you have the time and patience, try doing it sometime! Maybe, you’ll see things a little differently too!
I think one reason the texts from this week felt so different to me is because they were more contemporary works. Although the comics were published in the late 1980s, the content deals with contemporary issues (modern relationships to land, the treatment of women and queer identities come to mind). Hernandez confronts these and other issues in a fairly head-on attitude, which seems much more like current-day approach than I would have expected from someone writing in the 1980s. Brando Skyhorse’s novel The Madonnas of Echo Park and Myriam Gurba’s collection of short stories titled Painting Their Portraits in Winter were both published in the last six years and depict a number of the same themes as Hernandez. Because the three works shared similar themes, I found myself tracking how the authors approached the treatment of women and queer identities. I haven’t had the chance to form any kind of conclusions from what I’ve noticed, but it’s been interesting to see the similarities and differences!
With fourth week upon us, I’m off now to read a novel and research articles for our final paper! To any of my classmates reading this, happy researching! To other students, happy fourth week! To everyone else, thanks for reading!
Now that we’re at the end of our second week and more or less halfway through the class, people are beginning to feel more comfortable with each other and the course material, which means that we’re able to have deeper conversations with participation from a greater number of people! Yay! I’m really looking forward to weeks three and four and the discussion we’ll have then because we’ll all be even more comfortable and we’ll be reading more novels. This week we’ve focused on short stories, which has been fun because I think short stories are a really good way of developing analytical skills without overwhelming students with too much material to work with. But I almost always want more from short stories, so I’m definitely looking forward to novels because they contain a greater amount of complexity because they have more space and time to develop ideas, relationships etc!
For me, this week has reminded me of two very important things. The first is the skills required for a strong close reading assignment. I don’t think I’ve done a legitimate close reading assignment since my first year of college, so even though I use close reading concepts every time I write a paper, I forgot the absolute attention to detail required by a close reading. While writing these close reading papers, I keep finding myself wanting to make connections to other parts of the text or to other texts I’ve read. Although those connections will definitely help me out in the long-term, they are NOT the point of a close reading where you’re meant to stay within a specific passage and flesh out what you have in front of you! So lesson learned! It’s always a good idea to go back to the basics even when those basics challenge you do to things differently!
The second thing I’m taking away from this week is that just sometimes disliking a text is actually a sign of a good writer! We read Tomas Rivera’s Y no se lo trago la tierra (And the earth did not devour him for those who need the translation) earlier this week and I really, really struggled with it! Although quite short, it took me quite some time to read it because I would get so frustrated with how destabilized I felt while reading! I honestly felt like I wasn’t understanding what Rivera was writing, but after a little bit of reflection I decided that the instability of the text and narrative is quite intentional and helps give readers a better idea of the lives of migrant workers. After a few minutes more, I realized that I’d learned this lesson earlier in the school year when I read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for a class. Sometimes not liking a text simply means that the author has done exactly what he or she set out to do! As a reader and English major, we sometimes have to take a step back from our personal feelings and take a moment to appreciate an author’s craft.
Lastly, I noticed myself thinking about religion and spirituality with regard to almost every single thing we read. Maybe it had to do with the fact that it was Easter this past weekend or maybe that was just a fun coincidence! Either way, I fixated on religion quite a bit and probably had a better time than I should have thinking about the various ways the authors and texts treated religion and spirituality. Both Rivera and Américo Paredes seemed to have a more cynical view of religion than some of the other authors we’ve read in the past few weeks, such as Sandra Cisneros and Jovita Gonzalez. The authors presented both traditional Catholicism along with spirituality not based on religion (i.e. curanderismo in Bless Me Ultima [we watched the movie]). Although I found the authors’ portrayals of Catholicism interesting (thank you to my roommate who is always willing to answer any questions I have about Catholicism!), I was more intrigued by depictions of spirituality, probably in part because it is something I am less familiar with. I thought the way of interacting with the world and forming an intimate connection with the earth and those around them really stood out in the texts and movie. We also went to the Fine Arts Center to look at devotional art on Friday, which gave us another perspective on religion and spirituality. I thought the art pieces we looked at and the activities we participated in while at the center reinforced what we’ve read. Seeing the themes replicated in a different medium and across several hundred years was powerful indeed!
On a note not really related to this class, I was recently informed that in my first post I erroneously wrote “blogging world,” when I should have said “blogosphere,” so my apologies for that! The same person also pointed out several writing errors (or at the very least slightly sloppy instances of writing that I should probably avoid), so I apologize in advance for any further “mistakes” in any of my posts! In my defense, blogging is fairly informal and I haven’t had any glaring errors to really embarrass me!
Hello everybody! Full disclosure: this is the first time I’ve ever blogged, so please be patient with me as I learn my way around the blogging world! As with the start of every block, this week has been a whirlwind of activity! For the first time all school year, I’m in a class at or near full student capacity, which as a fairly shy person has been quite the adjustment. Although being packed into an Armstrong classroom was initially a little overwhelming, I’m actually quite excited to be a part of such a large class. For most of the year I’ve immersed myself in upper-level English courses where I’ve been surrounded by fellow English majors. In contrast to my previous six blocks, Mexican American Literature has a wide range of students representing every grade level and a number of different majors. Although we’re only a week in, I’ve really enjoyed the different perspectives of my fellow classmates. The variety of their viewpoints is incredibly refreshing and I think will help generate some fascinating discussions later in the block when we’ve all worked through the beginning-of-the-block jitters.
Throughout the week, our readings have given us all a glimpse into some important US history surrounding the settling of the West. Although a decent chunk have some background knowledge on how the West was settled, especially with regard to land acquisition, this is the first time we’ve learned about it from a non-white perspective and the differences are pretty astounding! I certainly never imagined the legal battles landowners became involved in that resulted in the destitution of a huge number of Mexican landowners. Silly me figured that the US gained the land through the same violent measures used against Native Americans in previous years! Long story short, I already feel like I’ve learned a lot and never expected to learn so much history in a literature class!
Yesterday, as part of class requirements, we attended Kristen Iverson’s lecture on Rocky Flats and the book she wrote about growing up in that area. For anyone who doesn’t know the significance of Rocky Flats (and believe me, yesterday I was one of those people), it was a facility in Arvada that produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The area is profoundly contaminated and many people lived or live nearby in complete ignorance of the health risks associated with the plant. As a native of Denver, Colorado, the information Ms. Iverson talked about was shocking and horrifying. Plutonium has contaminated soil, air, and water and there is almost no clean-up happening in large part because of expense. Although the plant was shut down a number of years ago (interestingly after the FBI raided it, which has one government agency investigating another government agency), numerous employees and local residents are experiencing debilitating health problems, including cancer, as a direct result of their exposure to chemicals from the plant. Even though I was a little unsure about the talk, I’m so happy that we all went because it taught us important facts about Colorado, but also helped us draw parallels between current issues and what we’ve been reading about in class.
Lots to think about and discuss after this week! Like I said at the beginning of the blog, I’m new to this, so still exploring what I can do, which means pictures or something along those lines will appear in my next post once I’ve figured more things out!