Thoughts That Breathe: A Pair of Shoes

“A Pair of Shoes” – Vincent Van Gogh

A poem based off of the following painting (“A Pair of Shoes”) by Vincent Van Gogh.

I remember the smile on your face when you scored your very first goal on the soccer field.
I remember the cries of pain when you fell down from your bike at age 4.
I remember your eagerness, as we first walked into your kindergarten class and your classmates ran over to hug you.
I remember your grief, when you understood that the world could be very cruel to even an eight-year-old.
I remember your happiness, when you finally found love under a night full of beautiful stars.

I remember everything you remember, and much, much more.

I remember watching you as you cried yourself to sleep, wishing I could wipe away your tears.
I remember walking with you along the river, wishing you would tell me what happened.
I remember laughing silently when you spilled your chocolate milk all over me.
I remember the joy I felt when you walked across that stage.
I remember wishing all these moments would last forever.

But I’m old and worn-out now, and I will no longer be able to walk down these paths with you for much longer.

I’ll no longer be able to see or remember everything with you.

Will you remember me, too?

Will you remember all the times we ran across the grass, feeling like nothing could ever hold us back?
Will you remember all the times we sat together on the back porch, enjoying the silence?
Will you remember all the times we looked at the moon together, in awe of its brightness?
Will you remember all the times we walked together — sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes feeling just fine?
Will you remember?

***

Here I am, sitting alone in this home that used to light up whenever you were awake.
Here I am, bearing the gusts of wind and rain alone; no one will hold the umbrella for me anymore.
Here I am, listening to the cheers of the little soccer players outside — just like I did years ago.
Here I am, feeling bored, because it’s weird being by myself again.
Here I am now, growing weaker, for without your support and love to fill me,
I am but just a pair of shoes.

van-gogh-a-pair-of-shoes

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This is not where it ends

Here it is, my last official blog assignment of my high school career, in which I dedicated a blog post to my blog.

(Yes, I know that this was due two weeks ago.
Yes, my grade can most definitely handle a zero at this point.
And yes, I did just graduate three days ago.)

Truthfully, I was just going to ride out the wave that was senior year; after all, I had been diagnosed early on  with a severe case of senioritis.

But for some reason, not writing this last post didn’t seem right, and maybe it’s because this blog has grown into something bigger than an assignment.

I began this blog two years ago, the fall of 2014, because the junior English teachers decided to try giving us weekly assignments through blog posts, so that we would have more experience in expressing our thoughts (in a casual setting). I remember sitting there while my friends came up with great blog names (see Name in the Wind or The Odd Hope). When my friends asked me what I liked most, I said ‘smiles’ and ‘kittens’ (still true) and so my blog name became thus: Smiles and Kittens. (I did get a lot of traffic from poor cat lovers who accidentally stumbled upon my blog in search for cute cat videos–which, to be fair, I did have some).

That first year (or, half a year), my blog was read 1800 times by people from 16 different countries. And that’s when I realized the potential this blog had, and more importantly, that I had. I could touch the lives of those around the world just from my computer screen and through my words. Most of my works and writing have only ever been viewed by my close friends, family and teachers, but here, the world could see it. So I decided, “Hell yes. I’m going to make this blog into my personal-but-not-personal-diary.”

In 2015, I began publishing posts about my travels, recipes and food cravings, and my reactions to the current political situation as well as other issues. My blog hit 87 countries (!!!) and I thought, “You know what? I think I like this, this idea that maybe my words might just be important to some people.” So I kept blogging, both for school and outside. Certainly, the number of my posts died down, to where I was only blogging about school assignments (I told you, senioritis is real and I caught it).

Finally, this time of year rolled around, only this time, I would never have another “blog assignment” ever. I’m a high school graduate now, and this blog is now, well, just another blog on the internet, and the one guaranteed reader I had (my teacher, that is) won’t be checking it either.

I could have left this blog as is, just floating around on the web, but I just can’t give it up. I would, however, like to change something: I have finally thought of a good blog name after these two years, and I present:

"All the Beautiful Times"

Yes, I realize that that is indeed a lyric from a Taylor Swift song. Yes, I know I’m obsessed. But it reminds me of all the beautiful times that we (my blog and I) shared together, at midnight (like right now) where I would be frantically typing my thoughts before they flew away). More importantly, it’s a reminder of all the beautiful times to come.

I can only hope that this blog will be loved by you guys as much as I love it! And please, keep checking back because there WILL be new content in the future. Love you guys so much! ❤

Tabletalk

The Chinese have a tradition of always sitting at the table after eating lunch or dinner — dirty dishes and all — to talk for half an hour. It doesn’t matter the occasion or the guests around the table ; everyone takes some time out of their busy day to stay connected with friends and family in real life (not just via phone screens).

My family doesn’t always have time to do so (since we’re either at school or work), but today after lunch, we just sat around the table and talked to each other. You definitely realize how much you’ve missed, even though you’re living under the same roof as your family members. That’s why the Chinese release everyone from work/school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to have enough time for lunch and talking.

And for me, who’ll be going off to college in a couple of months, these after-lunch-talks are invaluable. In fact, I propose we add the following word to the English dictionary: tabletalk.

tabletalk (n) - the time after lunch or dinner spent talking
to the people you shared the meal with

Ex. As I head off for college, I realize the importance of tabletalk and wish I hadn’t substituted it for playing on my phone or studying in my room.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here

“Dad, please give me the box,” the woman begged me. “You really shouldn’t have it.”

“Ma’am, I promise you have the wrong person,” I answered, panicking. “I don’t know who your dad is, but I’m not him.”

At least, as far as I was aware, the nineteen-year-old me — with my awkward lankiness and my I-tried-to-save-money-by-cutting-my-own-hair haircut — hadn’t been sleeping around with any girls and certainly couldn’t be the father of a thirty-year-old woman. But the lady had such an urgent look on her face as she wildly waved her arms that even I was confused: maybe she did have an eerily similar face as mine…

***

All I’d wanted to do was catch the final train of the day from Boston to New York. Or rather, I was sent to deliver a large box from one of my closest friend to his uncle. It wasn’t a terribly large box; he’d just wanted to send some medicine and pills over to a sick family member, but because of conflicts in his work schedule, I volunteered to go instead. Covered in golden swirls, the box could easily be held in one hand, and a quick shake revealed that it likely was just a few pills in the box.

Yet as I purchased the ticket, I noticed a strangely dressed woman following me; she was easy to spot, with her bizarre hat and a huge map tucked underneath her arm. She cast several strange glances at me, so I stood as far away from her as I could. It was already nine by the time the train arrived, and the platform was almost empty, save for a few stragglers here and there. I decided to go to the last car, but as the train bells began to ring, I saw her running frantically towards my car, jumping in just as the doors began to close.

And then it was quiet, just the two of us staring at each other. I looked back down at the box. A shadow appeared before me, and I looked up to see the woman standing right in front me. I could see her clearly now: her choice of outfit, which seemed to be silver trash bag, was strange, and her rainbow-sprinkled top hat — which she couldn’t seem to stop twirling around –matched her rainbow-spotted heels.

“Ahh, Richa–, I mean, Dr. Worce–, uh, gosh, they really shouldn’t have sent me, but yeah, hey Dad,” the woman stuttered. “I–, could you hand me the box?”

“What?” I asked, clutching the small box closer to my chest. “What’s all this about dad’s and Drs. and boxes?”

***

“You have to hand me the box,” the woman said. “I’m Vanessa. They sent me to come get the back –which I really don’t understand why, since I’m not well trained in time-traveling and I talk to much when I’m scared and nervous and that, they say, I get from you, but –”

I stood up.

“Alright,” I said. “A) I most certainly do not ramble like you do when I get nervous or scared, and as you can see right now I’m definitely not nervous or scared or talking too much. B) Time-traveling does not exist. C) I’m Richard, and I’m 19 and not old enough to have a grown-up child. D) What’s in this box does not concern you.”

The train had begun slowing down as it entered one of the smaller stops along the way. As it lurched to a stop, Vanessa began turning her hat this way and that, muttering under her breath.

“You don’t understand. This concerns the fate of our world, of humanity, and what you have in your hands could destroy our future, which is why you should give it to me.”

“Perhaps Vanessa, you mean to say, ‘Which is why you should not give it to me,” a booming voice echoed throughout our car. A tall man strolled in, glaring at Vanessa. The two looked no more than five years apart, and as each eyed the other closely, I realized something else: both had the same birthmark on their arm. It was the same one I had on mine.

“Well, Dad, good to finally be able to meet  you,” he said to me. “Though I suggest you take the box and run for your life.”

With that, he pushed me out of the car as Vanessa lunged towards me, her skin slowly melting into her silver trash-bag dress. I tumbled onto the platform as the train began to pull away, with the man and Vanessa-turned-silver-robot shooting at each other between the aisles. Panting, I looked at the small golden box I held in my hands.

Just the hell was going on, and what exactly was in this little box?

 

MY FELLOW BLOGGERS (PART VII)

It’s that time again, where I get to read all these interesting things that my friends and fellow classmates have to say about plays,  poetry and art!

https://themetaphoricalunicorn.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/midlife-crises/comment-page-1/#comment-36
Longfellow’s poem seemed to focus more on the past, on all the achievements he’d missed in his life, while Keats poem emphasized the ephemeral nature of humanity, that we may never be able to accomplish everything we wish to do. Interesting analysis of the two poem’s structures, which helps to identify the tones of the poems. This author argues that Keats seemed more wistful and hopeful – represented by the strange position of the volta in the middle of the sentence, while Longfellow seemed to accept his depressing situation through his calm analysis.

https://thesonderingmind.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/women-in-hamlet/comment-page-1/#comment-44
Ophelia and Gertrude’s role, and together how their actions reflect Shakespeare’s subtle (or not-so-subtle) assertions about the roles assigned to women in their society and the ways  in which they are treated, are discussed in this blog post. The author argues that both Gertrude and Ophelia’s deaths are suicides as that would best fit Shakespeare’s belief that women shouldn’t be so oppressed by society, and the two are quite conscious of the fact that by committing suicide, they are exercising the one form of control they have over their disintegrating lives.

https://zthought.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/a-piece-of-art/comment-page-1/#comment-50
The author of this blog examines Jackson Pollock’s No. 1 and states that art is a projection of the viewer. It’s not as much what we see as much as what we feel by looking at these paintings. The size of the painting, then, also allows what the author calls “a primitive  unleashing of the inner self.” None of these paintings in the series have names and all look pretty similar, yet each one of them (with varying sizes and shapes) exudes a unique atmosphere, left for the viewers themselves to decide what exactly that is. On that note, here’s Pollock’s No. 10 that I found in the Boston Museum of Arts:

Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock’s No. 10 at the Boston Museum of Arts.

Till love and fame to nothingness do sink

In the two poems below, Keats and Longfellow reflect on similar concerns. Read the poems carefully. Then write an essay in which you compare and contrast the two poems, analyzing the poetic techniques each writer uses to explore his particular situation.

“When I Have Fears” -John Keats (1818)

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Poem 2:

“Mezzo Cammin*” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1842)
Written at Boppard on the Rhine August 25, 1842,
Just Before Leaving for Home

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,—
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,—
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract** of Death far thundering from the heights.

*from the first line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (“Midway upon the journey of our life”).
**A large waterfall

BIG QUESTION: Compare and contrast the two poems and the two writers’ situations.

Compare: Both poets are concerned with their accomplishments in life as well as their inevitable deaths.

Contrast: Keats’ focuses on his future aspirations — such as fame, love and success — that he’ll eventually have to miss. On the other hand, Longfellow regrets that he has traded so many opportunities in his past to maintain a relatively “safe” life.

(Devices used/worth noting: personification, figurative language, tone, structure)

Thesis:  Both Keats and Longfellow address their fear of a life gone by too fast through poetic techniques, but while Keats’ poem laments the missed opportunities of the future, Longfellow regrets everything he’s failed to fulfill in the past.

Topic Sentence 1: The poems both emphasize the ephemeral lives of humans and their glory in the face of our inevitable deaths.

Figurative Language: Impending death
Metaphors
Longfellow: a city in the twilight
Similes
Keats: "Hold like rich garners"
Imagery: the Glory of the past
Keats: Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
Longfellow: A city in the twilight dim and vast, With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights

Topic Sentence 2: However, the tones of poems reveal two different perspectives on the nature of time and death.

Personification: Keats (wistful) | Longfellow(dark)
Keats: When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face
Longfellow:The cataracts of Death far thundering from the heights.
Structure: KEATS (retains hope for future) | LONGFELLOW(Despair)
Keats: —then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
Longfellow: And hear above me on the autumnal blast The cataract2 of Death far thundering from the heights.

I will, my lord; I pray you, pardon me

Suicide is an important motif in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We encounter the contemplation of suicide, and even the act itself (maybe). To understand what the play says about suicide, we’ll look at the two most likely cases of suicide (Ophelia and maybe Gertrude) and a few other instances where Hamlet himself considers suicide.

Throughout the play, Ophelia is portrayed as a obedient and meek young woman, and every single one of her actions seem to be dictated by the men surrounding her, especially her father, Polonius. However, the death of Polonius — the single most influential person in her life and one whom Ophelia is very dependent upon — throws her entire life out of balance. Afterwards, she descends into madness, roaming and singing in the court and handing out flowers to each of the characters. When Gertrude informs us that Ophelia has drowned, she describes how Ophelia was “like a creature native and indued Unto that element: but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death” (iv.vii.179-183). As a woman who had, prior to her father’s death, made no decisions of her own, her suicide represents the first time that she has absolute control over her life. Her choice to not save herself is an outward expression of her inner feelings of depression, loneliness and turmoil.

Likewise, whether Gertrude’s death was a suicide is also widely debated today. For my own panel discussion, I had the question about familial relationships, and believed that Gertrude truly loved Hamlet. After Hamlet informs her to stop sleeping with Claudius because the latter had killed her husband (in the same scene that Polonius is killed), I felt that Gertrude began to look for some opportunity to tell (or show) her son that she did not intentionally  seek to abandon either Hamlet or his father and was willing to help him. Thus, deeming her death a suicide made more sense in this context, as an effort to both save and warn her son no matter the consequences (King Claudius: Gertrude, do not drink. Gertrude: I will, my lord; I pray you, pardon me” (v.ii.290-291)). Additionally, Gertrude’s decision to drink the poisoned cup as an act of defiance and control would parallel the circumstances of Ophelia’s death. Both women, in committing suicide (if we choose to see both deaths as suicides), are exercising their only form of control over their lives.

On the other hand, Hamlet, who frequently contemplates suicide, never actually commits the act. In his famous “To be or not to be” speech, Hamlet asks “who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns” (iii.i.76-80). The fear of what comes after death, as well as the fear of possibly not going to Heaven (as suicide was widely viewed as un-Christian) obstructs him from carrying out the act himself, but in this soliloquy, the analysis of the reasons behind suicide show that not only is Hamlet seriously considering suicide at this point himself, but is also considering why some people may not end their lives and rather suffer through it.

While the women who actually commit suicide never once mention it, Hamlet is very outspoken and dramatic about the topic, especially during periods of inactivity in his life. Still, the three share one thing in common: once they find that they lack a purpose in this life, they begin to consider/actually commit suicide. For Ophelia, this was when her known world, centered around Polonius fell apart; Gertrude, when she finally understands what has happened, and what she has done to her deceased husband and her soon-to-be poisoned son; Hamlet, when he was stuck between believing the Ghost/killing his uncle or maintaining his loyalty to the King and Queen.The topic of suicide is heavily intertwined with some of the other topics (such as feminism, madness and tragic flaws), but shakespeare shows that once each of the characters reach this point, the sense of helplessness and worthlessness exceed their fears of the unknown and even the fear of not going to Heaven.

Frighted with False Fire

The Play Scene in 'Hamlet' (Daniel Maclise, 1806-1870)

The Play Scene in ‘Hamlet’ (Daniel Maclise, 1806-1870)

The above oil on canvas was painted by Daniel Maclise, a painter from Ireland, in 1842. Maclise’s work was often focused on literary and historical figures and scenes, and The Playscene in Hamlet (depicted above) is one his many paintings. The original is housed at the Tate Gallery (size: 60 x 108 inches).

Like the name suggests, The Play-scene in Hamlet depicts, well, the play-scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet and Horatio observe King Claudius’s reaction to the Murder of Gonzago. 

HAMLET: He poisons him i' the garden for's estate. His name's Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife. 
OPHELIA: The king rises. 
HAMLET: What, frighted with false fire! 
QUEEN GERTRUDE: How fares my lord? 
LORD POLONIUS: Give o'er the play.
KING CLAUDIUS: Give me some light: away! Away!

In the painting, Hamlet is lying on the ground (in a creepy way, with an even creepier look on his face) as he stares intently at King Claudius, as if to look into his very soul. Claudius can no longer look at the play, as it reminds him of his guilt and his murder of his own brother, and a look of guilt and perhaps even remorse crosses his face. Queen Gertrude, who does not know of the murder yet, watches the play (with a relatively neutral look on her face), while Ophelia stares sadly (sympathetically?) at Hamlet and Horatio (at least, I think the one standing behind Ophelia is Horatio?) focuses on the King’s reaction to the play. Everyone else (Polonious, the lords and ladies) are watching the Murder of Gonzago, which is at the center of this piece.

The play itself is ominous, with the the lamp in front casting eerie shadows across the actors. That scene is particularly noteworthy: the murderer (in the play) turns his back to the audience to hide his identity, but the light (the truth) shines on him and reveals his clear features through the shadows on the wall. It’s a clear reminder to Claudius that his actions cannot forever be hidden, that soon, all will know of the atrocious act he committed. Yet, the play certainly isn’t the focus of this scene; rather, we are supposed to look at the facial expressions and details in the specific moment that Maclise captures with his painting. From the looks on each of the important characters’ faces, we see their deepest feelings and secrets; we see into their minds. Just as notable are the  tapestries of Cain and Abel on the walls that allude to the circumstances of King Hamlet’s death. Maclise’s work beautifully commands the emotions across the characters’ faces and their actions, while the intricate details add depth to our understanding of both the painting and of the original work itself.

Five variations on “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice”

The archive at University of Victoria hosts high-resolution scans of antiquated printings of Shakespeare’s works. Since we’re currently studying Othello, I looked at several versions of that particular play (First Folio, Second Folio, Third Folio, Fourth Folio and Quarto 1). The page that I chose to look at in-depth included Act 3, scenes 1, 2 and the beginning of section 3.

First Folio: When I first scanned the page, my brain translated the stage directions (Enter Caffio, Muffitians, and Clowns) as Enter Coffee, Muffins, and Clowns. This version isn’t particularly different from my version other than the s-character looking to similar to the f-character, and certain words or punctuations being used differently. Occasionally, there’s an extra ‘e’ at the end of certain words (winde, paines, etc.) or in the middle of other words (heere, seeme). Also, the ‘u’ and ‘v’ are apparently flipped (flauor and vnto).

Second Folio: This edition is much easier to read, and the ‘u’s and ‘v’s aren’t flipped! Unfortunately, the f’s still looks like s’s, but other than that, there wasn’t anything drastic that changed between the first and second folio. Emilia is also spelled with that weird-looking AE character and abbreviated as AEmil.

Third Folio: Likewise, the Third Folio also isn’t very different from the other two. Certainly, the copy looks much cleaner, the sections are clearly separated, and as always, there are differentiations in spellings (and the y’s have been replaced in i’s).

Fourth Folio: This final folio is by far the easier to read, both in that the page was much neater and the text was (relatively) easier to comprehend (Like, if I had read the First Folio of Othello without having read my own version first, I doubt I would have any idea what was going on).

Quarto 1: Apparently the Quarto isn’t divided in acts and sections? Also, as mentioned before, the Quarto is the only version that out of these five that includes religious oaths (Zounds, Marry). And in the right-hand corner of every page was one word that, if you aren’t careful, is very easy to overlook. I have no idea what it’s doing there or why just that one word. Then, there’s an H also just there, at the bottom of the page, by itself? I’ve heard that some Quartos have gross translations of Othello, but the few pages I read didn’t seem that different, other than the fact that it just seemed, in terms of format, all over the place.

The curtains aren’t blue

John Gardner’s Grendel, which narrates the life of the monster from Beowulf from a first-person point-of-view, is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read: Gardner intricately weaves together philosophy and astronomy to create an engaging and thoughtful novel.

Decades ago, a teacher and three of her students sent Gardner their essays on his novel, and he responded with this sassy letter. Certainly, this letter contains way too many gems for me to cover in just two paragraphs, so I’ll just focus on the two things Gardner touched on that stood out the most to me (+ a little comment about the actual Beowulf epic).

(So here’s the little comment about Beowulf: It’s really interesting that Gardner hints at Beowulf begin pessimistic. Certainly, I’ve only read a section of a mediocre translation, but the way I perceived it, Beowulf was meant to laud the accomplishments of the Anglo-Saxon culture and Beowulf himself was the “perfect human” that everyone should strive to be like (at least, isn’t that what an epic is supposed to be?) Gardner suggests that in Beowulf, the hero “does everything he can to be a perfect hero, and in the end he’s killed, for reasons he doesn’t understand, dies deluded –thinking he has saved his people when in fact the treasure he’s captured is worthless…” I wonder if the scopes who first told Beowulf meant that, but either way, Gardner’s point is very much valid.)

Anyways, on the rest of his letter. The three students who wrote to Gardner apparently all came to the conclusion that his opinions on life echoed that of the dragon (and that he was advocating for only one philosophy of life). But Gardner (the author) disagrees, saying that a “good writer is indeed a careful philosopher; but his method is not to argue for a single position—but rather to explore, with all the care and wisdom he’s capable of mustering, the various implications, contributing factors, etc., that must be considered when any serious philosophical question is raised.” Rather, the author must develop the gift of mimicry and become able to present various points of view on any given question.”  Gardner does exactly that: in twelve chapters, he explores the major perspectives on the biggest question: what is the purpose and meaning of our lives?

Grendel, with his man-eating lifestyle and absolutely terrifying thoughts (especially later in the novel), still serves as a foil against society and its corruption — the making up of noble (or ignoble, as Gardner notes) values that forces Grendel to”give up all hope and faith, becoming a mere enemy, a mere brute.” But neither is the novel a statement about society’s corruption; rather, anything can corrupt, including isolation. And then he adds, “In the long run, I hope, an imperfect society is better than a solitary monster.”

After reading this letter, I’m in awe. A lot of times, I’m guilty of this:
QWGrU

 

 

 

 

 

 

But dang. Gardner is a pure genius, and he wants us to know it (it being that his novel is a masterpiece, that he’s a genius, and that everything in Grendel is EVERYTHING).