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Final Essay: Round One

It wasn’t till my senior year of high school did I realize what it all meant to me. There are few things in life that can make my heart skip a beat or cause tears to roll down my cheeks. But sitting in that small, dark room with the large, white projector screen reflecting light back into my eyes, it finally all made sense. As my seminary teacher paused to regain his composure, my uncontrollable silent tears continued to drip as he resumed the heart-breaking story of Denny and Wendy Mack. Wendy, who was pregnant with their fourth child, is now deceased as well as her sweet child. She unfortunately left her husband alone in this world to care for their remaining three small children and the weight of daily life that came with it. To keep his love for Wendy alive, Denny continues to update their family blog as he remembers their final conversation, and where his days take him as life refuses to pause.

“There was nothing more difficult for me than thinking about how to tell my kids… Wendy’s kids, that their mommy was not coming home again. I replayed it over and over in my mind and it never went well. I even tried to break it up a bit by telling them that the baby was sick and they were at the hospital and that we needed to go see the baby. This was yesterday… After they had a chance to meet Maylee, I decided we needed to talk. As we were lead down the hall by the attending nurse, my Kenna started asking about mommy. I just told her she was somewhere else… I wasn’t about to have this “well rehearsed” talk out in the hall. I was in front of her walking so she couldn’t see her dad break. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the nurse had lost control a little also. He was very professional and compassionate, but I couldn’t help but think how helpless I would feel in his shoes too. I learned later that he had been married a few years longer than me and had 3 kids that were all 1 year ahead of mine. I wouldn’t have been able to keep the tears back either.”

That was ‘the point’. It was the point of understanding, of realization, of horribly broken heartache that made my eyes open to the literate arts. After reading about Denny and Wendy Mack’s final moments together I realized that this is what Richard Miller, author of The Dark Night of the Soul, was trying to explain to us. With the ever looming question “What are the literate arts good for?” I feel I have found somewhat of an answer. Of course – this answer will be different for everyone. Given life and the experiences dealt to us I don’t feel that anyone could sufficiently answer such an intense question. At the same time, I’m left with this feeling of inadequacy; “How can I ever play the omniscient, the all-knowing, when I don’t know anything?” (10). Nonetheless, I attempt to act as such.

One may answer the question with obvious statements. Asking the question again, “What are the literate arts good for?” these answers slowly start to become apparent. Well, they help better us. It amplifies our self worth. If you better yourself, you can move ahead and around the competition. You can be a more overall successful person, which will help you live a better life. However, now we are left with “What is a good life?” Since we are left with yet another question, others may argue the answer would better be “The literate arts provide a personal experience”, or in other words, a history. They leave a record of our times. In the past this was done by storytelling, but as we know from the childish game “telephone”, where a phrase is whispered from person to person, the words are often manipulated and the original phrase is lost. By writing down our history we cultivate an identity. It shows us a possibility for existence. Finally, a third answer may be, “The literate arts are good for personal expression”. This can be taken two directions. First, the personal expression may be used to create an alienation or aloneness. This provides a new sense of individualism. The second may be to connect with people. It can help us understand them. It can be used as a motivation or empathy. It can create a new human community, or help us be a part of an already existing community.

Working from the text, Arts of the Contact Zone, by Mary Louise Pratt we are introduced to the concept and idea of a community versus a contact zone. Humans have a natural desire to connect and be close. In doing so, they form a community – a place to see eye to eye and level out on a personal level. Pratt says “Communities are distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined” (4). Even if a community thrives on one giant contact zone (a place of diversity in opinions, religion, level of education, etc), it is a place where style can be cultivated and imagined. This can provide many with the opportunity to find their style within reading and writing. Consider a book club or a poetry slam team; people who have come together to create a literate community while also incorporating their own style – a contact zone. Every book and every person will be different; they speak differently to each individual.

Pratt would say that the literate arts are good for the contact zones. They help highlight individuality and our understanding/access to other cultures. However, this is simply one author’s opinion. This is a subject that needs to be viewed from multiple angles. Paulo Freire, Author of The Banking Concept of Education, shares his opinions of the subject.

The banking method is viewed as an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Freire. It is a system that consists of a teacher pouring thoughts, facts, and ideas into the minds of the students. It leaves no room for discussion; just a constant flow of information which the students often don’t know how to handle. Instead of this method, Freire argue in favor of a learning device he calls “problem-posing”. This allows students and teachers to be equal. All ask questions, all discover new things, and all find the answer. He favors this because the students know things. In the banking method, “The students are not called upon to know, but to memorize the contents narrated by the teacher” (263). This is why the problem-posing and literate arts are important. Ultimately: they complement each other. Each provides the student with the opportunity to speak and be heard. To be able to put words down on paper is an expression of knowledge – what Freire wants all students to have. Freire feels education is most important thing in life. By working with the literate arts and the problem-posing method what you learn is given meaning. A lot of what Freire speaks of coincides with Pratt. The literate arts are a form of communication – communication is a key in human communities. He also expresses his feelings of the importance of history and how it provides a way to progress in life. Education is a modern day revolution – the only way to revise our history and make the future better.

That future is all Richard Rodriguez had eyes for. As he summarizes the course of his education in his essay, The Achievement of Desire, he recognizes the way he built a wall between his family life and his education. He intentionally created a contact zone. This essay, almost a personal memoir, is an example of why the literate arts are important in our daily lives. It is written from a personal point of view – such as a journal would be. His essay has become a history of what his education did to his family life; “Scholarship boy: good student, troubled son” (600). In those simple six words he summarizes his childhood and the struggles he dealt with as his education became more of a barrier instead of a tool that would make him happy. The more he learned, the less happy he became. He was losing touch with his family since they couldn’t carry on a conversation at the same level of intelligence. It was painting a picture in his mind that he couldn’t have the best of both worlds. He was feeling unstable; unable to find a balance.

It was confusing for me to see that the education Freire claimed so important was causing friction in Rodriguez’s life. At the same time, as I continued to read Rodriguez’s essay I was beginning to understand him. I was having the same heartaches as I did while reading the Mack family blog. Recognizing that these emotions can stem from two different authors reiterates to me that the literate arts are important; they have the ability to effect people. But why aren’t words just words? Why are the literate arts so important? Even more importantly, as I explore this question as a whole, I can’t help but ask myself “Why are the literate arts so important to me?” This theme of families being torn apart is awful to see in life; to experience it as words on a page that leap off in proportions never experienced before is unsettling. I first experienced the Mack family blog five months ago – the impressions it left on me feel as if they happened yesterday. As I dwell on the ultimate question, I reflect again back to the Mack family –

“We went into a private room and the three of them sat on the table in front of me. I stammered and struggled through explaining where mommy was. I told them that she was with Heavenly Father and would not be living with us anymore. My son got it. I crumbled as his face contorted into that hurt look that I had seen in my thoughts thousands of times in anticipation… Dallin has been the pillar of strength. He came in and put his arm around me and said “Daddy, I am sorry you lost your wife.” What do you say to that? I just held him and said thank you, “I am sorry you lost your mommy, but we are in this together.” ”

I’m afraid the way that Richard Miller asks his audience why the literate arts are important, is that he asks it in a way that causes people to think there is only one answer. I remind you that I strongly disagree with him. As I’ve scraped through all these various texts looking for that golden answer, I keep coming back to those general ideas; personal gain, history, and personal expression. Even more so, I’ve realized you can’t do one of those three things without doing the other two at the same time. The way Miller structured his essay left me feeling that everything we read and/or write is done so in vain. He states, “There will never again be a book that can credibly be labeled “great,” not because outstanding books are no longer being produced, but because the world is now awash with writing that no one reads, with last year’s blockbusters ending up in the dump next to this year’s most insightful critiques”.

It’s difficult to make you understand how I feel. There are so many thoughts swarming the channel that leads to my fingers – begging to be dictated on the page. What are the literate arts good for? In my life they are good for everything. They are an outlet from this world of destruction we live in. I could not find the answer to this question in the analytical texts of all those brilliant authors. All they did for me was pose question after question that left me with more confusion and loss of hope. But for whatever reason when I read the personal and intimate thoughts of Denny Mack, a part of me grows. My understanding of human behavior changes as Denny makes it even clearer to me the importance of family and the time we have. We take so much for granted; Rodriquez showed this to me. We will always be faced with difficult situations; Pratt taught me this. We all see and apply things differently; claimed Freire. Most of what we do goes unnoticed; according to Miller. Yet here we are, still reading and writing because as much as we’d like to find a concrete answer that tells why we behave the way that we do, we simply can’t, and we should all be satisfied with that. Find you the reason you love to read, or love to write, or simply stop them both altogether.

The Dark Night of the Soul *Revised*

“… There’s no fighting the ways of the universe. In the grand scheme of things, he is insignificant, and what lies in store for him is what lies in store for us all – a story of increasing humiliation.”

 “Oh shoot”, I thought to myself, “I hope no one saw that”. Cautiously, I peered over my shoulder. There sat a boy on an exercise machine; smiling – possibly even laughing, but he may have just been breathing hard. I seriously need to remember not to dance in the break room while waiting for my lunch to heat up in the microwave. But it’s something I can’t help – music, rhythms, and any type of sound can send my body in to a subconscious state of movement. It usually starts with my head, pulsing back and forth; soon my shoulders side to side, and before you know it my hips are swaying left, right, and all around.

Richard Miller, author of The Dark Night of the Soul, summarizes a variety of various author’s works, (novels, personal memoirs, etc) one of which was Martin Amis’s novel, The Information. In reference to the quote above, I don’t want to be ‘him’; ‘him’ being, Richard Tull, a character in The Information. I don’t want my life to be a story of increasing humiliation. But the more I read about The Information, the more I realized I am most definitely ‘him’. In my case, however, I am not embarrassed by my choice to write. Amis makes one really consider why we continue to write in this world or even keep the literate arts around, by giving us a glimpse of our world through the eyes of his Richard Tull; a man who so desperately wants to change society with his written word. An honorable aspiration, don’t you think? But the more Richard fails to become published, the more he is convinced that everything he does is worthless. Why bother to read and write if it is all in vain?

“Back in school they never taught us what we needed to know; like how to deal with despair, or someone breaking your heart. For twelve years I’ve held it all together but a night like this is begging to pull me apart. I played it quiet, left you deep in conversation. I felt un-cool and hung out around the kitchen. I remember I kept thinking that I know you never would, and now I know I want to kill you like only a best friend could.” (Brand New, Seventy Times 7)

For me, it is not in vain. For the majority of my life, I never made any lasting ‘human connections’, which Miller claims we need. Many have attempted to fill this space with various mediums; books – fiction and non-fiction, poetry, movies, music, TV shows…  Music caught me first. There was a definite space in my life that was empty and lonely; in need of fulfillment. That’s when my good friend, Nick Peterson, introduced me to a whole new sound. “You’ve never heard of Brand New?” he asked, “They’re my all-time favorite band! I promise you’ll love them”, and I did. I loved them, and still love them. I love their lead singer, Jesse Lacey. He is a brilliant mastermind behind a microphone, spewing out lyrics of depth and proportions that no one has ever reached before. His ability to connect with anyone is almost unreal. One may think “They’re just another band”, but then you find a song that hits you harder than anything else has, and before you know it their albums are the new soundtrack to your life. They send my whole body into convulsions of head-banging, plie-ing, hip-thrusting, pirouetting, collapsing, tondu-ing, back-bending motions. The combination of the music and my body’s urge to dance was so overwhelming, yet I knew that space was filled. The cavity in my chest was so full; the space between my heart and ribcage literally disappears when the melodic tones of music enter my ears.

However, then Miller continued with, “… We no longer live in a world where human action can be explained. We have plenty of information; it just doesn’t amount to anything”

And he’s right. I can’t explain my reactions to music – they just happen. Even more, they won’t amount to anything. I’m most certainly not an accomplished ballet dancer.  Also, my deep internal connection with Brand New and Jesse Lacey means nothing to anyone else in the world. If that’s not bad enough (forget feeling sorry for me), what is even worse is people whose music and dance HAVE had effects on the world are already forgotten. I’m willing to bet the names Marie Taglioni and Phillipe Taglioni mean nothing to anyone except well accomplished ballet dancers, and those who have invested time into studying dance history. Marie Taglioni probably felt her intricate footwork would be remembered for centuries due to the way it revolutionized ballet. Her father, Phillipe, probably thought that he would always be remembered and be a household name for creating the pointe shoe, which changed the way choreographers could dictate dance and expression. Furthermore, what about Tchalkovsky? His musical compositions created such brilliant tones for choreographers to work with that the overall product was unlike anything audiences around the world had ever witnessed. These people have done things with their lives that many consider incredibly important and successful; but still amount to nothing. No one knows who they are. Miller points out at the end of his essay, that even he won’t be remembered, even though his writing has been a learning tool in schools. Eventually, even he will disappear from the minds of scholars.

“We live in the Information Age and all the information is telling us that whatever we have done, whatever we are doing, and whatever we plan to do will never have any lasting significance”

                It’s horrible to think that something that makes me feel so complete and connected is essentially worth nothing. Everything Brand New and Jesse Lacey have worked for will eventually dissolve away. There will come a time when their albums will no longer be for sale, when their tours have closed, and no one knows their name. There are so many people on this planet it’s only logical to think, “Of course I won’t impact everyone”. But for me, that keyword is ‘everyone’. Who cares about ‘everyone’? What matters in the end is you, and if you feel you have impacted at least ‘someone’. Miller knows his writing has been used in schools, but he doesn’t know those students. He has no idea how his writing has effected them. All he knows is that someone has read his written word; it has left people feeling happy, sad, completely changed or not affected at all. Sooner or later the works written by ‘Richard Miller’ will be nothing and he knows it. He knows he’s insignificant and yet he continues to write. THIS is why those gifted enough to mold words onto paper ought to continue to write. The impact the arts can have on lives is unique; you never know how it will turn out. However, we know from history the effects that it can have. Bibles, propaganda during war, love poems for a new crush, and suicide notes left behind for loved ones; they all leave people with a different feeling. Journals are window to the past. People say, “A picture’s worth a thousand words”, but anyone can fake a smile. Only words themselves truly describe the way a person feels. They teach us right from wrong, how to fix something that’s broken, or how to find our way when lost.

So if we really are just a blur in time and spec in space, why do we do what we do? Why do people commit suicide? Why do some people have all the riches in the world while others suffer and scramble to make it through another day? Why are so many people unhappy while others feel they have all the happiness in the world? Miller states, “The course of any given individual life cuts through or around a set of institutions charged with responsibility for nurturing both a sense of self and a sense of connection between self and society – the family, the school, and, for some, the church or the house of worship.” He mentions all of these things that are so integrated into our personal lives and societies life. They can be separate or together; hopefully an equal balance of each. These are the things that keep us going – the reason we do everything we do. We want to please our family, we want to make friends, we want to do well in school, and for some, want to develop a connection with special deities. Yes, we are a spec in space, but we are a beautiful spec in space. Perhaps even the prettiest. Our names will be forgotten, but we have all been given the chance to impact someone else, who will hopefully impact another. Nick Peterson did this for me; Brand New did this for me, and as Miller says, “The only way out is through.” You have to get through something to get somewhere.

“The Dark Night of the Soul” V.S. Me

“… There’s no fighting the ways of the universe. In the grand scheme of things, he is insignificant, and what lies in store for him is what lies in store for us all – a story of increasing humiliation.”

 “Oh shoot”, I thought to myself, “I hope no one saw that”. Cautiously, I peered over my shoulder. There sat a boy on an exercise machine; smiling – possibly even laughing, but he may have just been breathing hard. I seriously needed to remember not to dance in the break room while waiting for my lunch to heat up in the microwave. But it’s something I can’t help – music, rhythms, and any type of sound can send my body in to a subconscious state of movement. It usually starts with my head, pulsing back and forth, soon my shoulders side to side, and before you know it my hips are swaying left, right, and all around. Richard Miller, author of The Dark Night of the Soul, summarizes a variety of various author’s works, (novels, personal memoirs, etc) one of which was Martin Amis’s novel, The Information. In reference to the quote above, I don’t want to be ‘him’ (‘him’ being a Richard Tull; character in The Information). I don’t want my life to be a story of increasing humiliation. But the more I read about The Information, the more I realized I am most definitely ‘him’.

I don’t know why music has this effect on me, but it does. I’ve always loved a good dance party, a good concert, and a good shopping spree on itunes. Youtube can be an awfully dangerous site for me to end up on. I can spend hours listening to artists I’ve never heard of, watching classical ballet performances, or even watching music videos interpreted by someone who’s Deaf. The motion of their hands are so elegant in combination with the music, they bring the lyrics of the already emotion-evoking song to life. The space between my heart and ribcage quickly disappears when the melodic tones of music enters my ears. It excites my whole body, sending my head into a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.

For the majority of my life, I never made any lasting ‘human connections’, which Miller claims we need. Many have attempted to fill this space with various mediums; books – fiction and non-fiction, poetry, movies, music, TV shows…  Music caught me first. There was a definite space in my life that was empty and lonely; in need of fulfillment. That’s when my good friend, Nick Peterson, introduced me to a whole new sound. “You’ve never heard of Brand New?” he asked, “They’re my all-time favorite band! I promise you’ll love them”, and I did. I loved them, and still love them. I love their lead singer, Jesse Lacey. He is a brilliant mastermind behind a microphone, spewing out lyrics of depth and proportions that no one has ever reached before. His ability to connect with anyone is almost unreal. One may think “They’re just another band”, but then you find a song that hits you harder than anything else has, and before you know it their albums are the new soundtrack to your life. They send my whole body into convulsions of head-banging, plie-ing, hip-thrusting, pirouetting, collapsing, tondu-ing, back-bending motions. The combination of the music and my body’s urge to dance was so overwhelming, yet I knew that space was filled. The cavity in my chest was so full of pure joy and happiness, I thought I might die.

However, then Miller continued with,

“… We no longer live in a world where human action can be explained. We have plenty of information; it just doesn’t amount to anything”

And he’s right. I can’t explain my reactions to music – they just happen. Even more, they won’t amount to anything. I’m most certainly not an accomplished ballet dancer.  Also, my deep internal connection with Brand New and Jesse Lacey means nothing to anyone else in the world. If that’s not bad enough (forget feeling sorry for me), what is even worse is people whose music and dance HAVE had effects on the world are already forgotten. I’m willing to bet the names Marie Taglioni and Phillipe Taglioni mean nothing to anyone except well accomplished ballet dancers, and those who have invested time into studying dance history. Marie Taglioni probably felt her intricate footwork would be remembered for centuries due to the way it revolutionized ballet. Her father, Phillipe, probably thought that he would always be remembered and be a household name for creating the pointe shoe, which changed the way choreographers could dictate dance and expression. Furthermore, what about Tchalkovsky? His musical compositions, primarily his grand pas deux, created such brilliant tones for choreographers to work with that the overall product was unlike anything audiences around the world had ever witnessed. These people have done things with their lives that many consider incredibly important and successful; but still amount to nothing. No one knows who they are. Miller points out at the end of his essay, that even he won’t be remembered, even though his writing has been a learning tool in schools. Eventually, even he will disappear from the minds of scholars.

“We live in the Information Age and all the information is telling us that whatever we have done, whatever we are doing, and whatever we plan to do will never have any lasting significance”

                It’s horrible to think that something that makes me feel so complete and connected is essentially worth nothing. That everything Brand New and Jesse Lacey have worked for will eventually dissolve away. There will come a time when their albums will no longer be for sale, when their tours have closed, and no one knows their name. There are so many people on this planet it’s only logical to think, “Of course I won’t impact everyone”. But for me, that keyword is ‘everyone’. Who cares about ‘everyone’? What matters in the end is you, and if you feel you have impacted at least ‘someone’. Miller knows his writing has been used in schools, but he doesn’t know those students. He has no idea how his writing has effected them. All he knows is that someone has read his written word; it has left people feeling happy, sad, completely changed or not affected at all. Sooner or later the works written by ‘Richard Miller’ will be nothing and he knows it. He knows he’s insignificant and yet he continues to write.

So if we really are just a blur in time and spec in space? Why do we do what we do? Why do people commit suicide? Why do some people have all the riches in the world while others suffer and scramble to make it through another day? Why are so many people unhappy while others feel they have all the happiness in the world? Miller states, “The course of any given individual life cuts through or around a set of institutions charged with responsibility for nurturing both a sense of self and a sense of connection between self and society – the family, the school, and, for some, the church or the house of worship.” He mentions all of these things that are so integrated into our personal lives and societies life. They can be separate or together; hopefully an equal balance of each. These are the things that keep us going – the reason we do everything we do. We want to please our family, we want to make friends, we want to do well in school, and for some, want to develop a connection with special deities. Yes, we are a spec in space, but we are a beautiful spec in space. Perhaps even the prettiest. Our names will be forgotten, but we have all been given the chance to impact someone else, who will hopefully impact another. Nick Peterson did this for me; Brand New did this for me, and as Miller says, “The only way out is through.” You have to get through something to get somewhere.