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Chrétien de Troyes’ “The Knight of the Cart”

“One who loves totally is ever obedient, and willingly and completely does whatever might please his sweetheart” (254).

This lone sentence sums up the entirety of “The Knight of the Cart” by highlighting the reasons behind Lancelot’s brash actions. Lancelot is the “one who loves totally,” and he obeys his queen time and time again to affirm that aspect of his identity. She remains the sole preoccupation of his thoughts, and on his way to rescue Guinevere, he “was so intent upon her alone that he did not hear, see, or pay attention to anything” (216) hence Chrétien’s decision to leave him unnamed until he reunites with her (252).

Chrétien’s use of the adverbs “willingly” and “completely” in the above sentence qualify Lancelot’s obedience to his queen concerning this particular battle with Meleagant. But, these same adverbs also foreshadow his obedience to Guinevere’s ridiculously fickle tournament requests: he does his worst (276), and then does his the best (279) to comply and submit to the queen.

Lancelot demonstrates his total love for Guinevere by enduring the shame of the cart, rescuing women from rape, beheading knights, crossing the Sword Bridge, chronically affirming his fighting prowess, and simply by risking his own life and reputation to rescue her. Throughout the tale, Lancelot talks of the shame he endured on her behalf. He also speaks about how it “would never displease [him] to do anything that might please her” (280). With his first acquiescence to her demands, however, she forever controls him. Certainly, he gained one precious night with his “sweetheart,” but she can never return his “total” love.

Realizing the limits to his adulterous, albeit total, love further underscores Lancelot’s “willing” and “complete” obedience. He does not profess his love publicly because he knows the result of doing so would jeopardize Guinevere’s private and public virtue, so he beheads Meleagant instead (294).


Works Cited

Troyes, Chrétien de, and William W. Kibler. Arthurian Romances: Erec and Enide; Cliges; Lancelot; Yvain; Perceval. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.
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Possession and Fatherhood in “Rappacini’s Daughter”

Narratives, with all their complexity, detail, and singular characters, explore what William Empson calls a “complex word.” For Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” its full title qualifies as the complex word, and the entire story works it out. The title sets up a possessive: Rappaccini, the father, literally, by punctuation, possesses his daughter, Beatrice. Hawthorne selectively writes his title to position Rappaccini, from the outset, as the main character while objectively characterizing Beatrice.

The title defines Beatrice’s identity, for she literally is Rappaccini’s daughter, but “Beatrice” easily substitutes for that definition. Replacing a definition of Beatrice with Beatrice’s actual name, though, forefronts her human identity, agency and does not include her identity as an experiment. Beatrice functions in the story as a central object affecting three male characters, limiting her holistic characterization. Hawthorne introduces two of the three primary male characters before introducing Beatrice, and she finally enters the narrative when her father summons her (‘Beatrice! Beatrice!’ [2657]). She first voices her identity, “‘Here am I, my father! What would you?’” (2657), but the context curtails her exclamatory reply, especially considering the elaborate description of her beauty following it. Accordingly, the possessive title elucidates her objective characterization as her father’s experimental object, and however problematic, labels the short story well.

Beatrice begins and ends the story as Rappaccini’s experiment. Rappaccini’s skewed sense of identity as a father factors into his need to possess Beatrice. Possessing becomes his way of protection, but Rappaccini’s perverted testament of love deprives Beatrice of a “normal” existence. Rappaccini believes his daughter, as a female, requires some defense mechanism. When Beatrice objects to her father’s “fatal science” (2674) for poisoning her life and love prospects, he says to her:

‘What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts, against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy? Misery, to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath? Misery, to be as terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none’ (2675)

Rappacini misunderstood his daughter’s heart and desires—she alone maintains the agency to make her own decisions, but her father corrupts her inborn free will via possessive fatherhood. Beatrice proves her resilience, though, and capacity to capitalize on her less than ideal situation as an experiment in her retort: “I would fain have been loved, not feared” (2675). She dies criticizing her father for possessing and poisoning her existence. Certainly, Rappaccini aimed to better equip his daughter with “marvellous gifts” to battle oppressive patriarchal society, but in manipulating her, he crosses the line between father and scientist.


Works Cited

Empson, William. “The Structure of Complex Words.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 56, no. 2, 1948, pp. 230–250.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappacini’s Daughter.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. By Paul Lauter, Richard Yarborough, and John Alberti. Vol. 2. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014. 2653-2676. Print.

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Changing Notions of Urban Māori Identity

By the mid-1970s, many Māori youths left their traditional communities for the city to “establish themselves economically and socially among Pākehā [white, usually European/Western]” (Houkamau 189) in part because of a greater economic recession New Zealand endured at the time (Henderson 77). This led to greater visibility of Māori in the urban “Pākehā world,” causing some tension that ultimately lead to a Māori cultural renaissance— revival of tikanga (Māori customs, traditions) and a re-assertion of land rights. In 1972, the iwi (tribe) Ngā Tamato submitted the Māori Language Petition to Parliament to support the teaching of Te Reo (Māori language) and tikanga in schools (Hayward). In 1975, the New Zealand Parliament formed the Waitangi Tribunal for Māori to address grievances and claims against the Crown for violations of the Māori language version of the Treaty of Waitangi, a key document that established relations between Pākehā (non-Māori, usually European) and Māori on February 6, 1840 (Allen 115). The Treaty, thereafter, became recognized by the government as New Zealand’s founding document, developing greater respect for a bicultural New Zealand (Hayward). The Springbok Tour of 1981, the first anti-nuclear protest of 1983, and the monumentally important song, “Poi E” of 1984 (heavily used in the film Boy, see below) followed these major steps towards a fairer treatment of Māori, and ushered in a “time of exciting and sometimes bewildering ferment” (Henderson 77). But, the Māori Language Act of 1987 proved especially important for Māori, conferring official language status to Te Reo (Angelo 1085). These historical happenings grew to shape the identity of New Zealand and the multiple identities, especially the Māori identity, within the nation-state.

boy_3Capitalizing on this period of cultural renaissance, Māori-Jewish director, Taika Waititi set his 2010 film, Boy, in 1984; the film has become the highest-grossing film in New Zealand in part for its accurate portrayal of struggling Māori (Henderson 92). The film captures a boyish charm in all of its characters while constructing a kind of spirituality and beauty around being a traditional Māori versus being assimilated into Pākehā culture—here, the question of identity comes center stage.

Boy, begins with a hastily written question on a faded green chalkboard, “Who am I?” only to have the titular boy (who goes by the same name: Boy) answer. He lives in rural Waihau Bay, goes to school on his marae (courtyard, traditional Māori gathering place) with his brother, Rocky, learns Te Reo, and respects Māori tikanaga. Boy objectively characterizes his absent father, Alamein, as a successful man in the “Western” or Pākehā sense, but when Alamein first enters the narrative, he subjectively characterizes himself as a lost boy. After his wife dies, Alamein separates from his children, moves to the city, forms a gang (The Crazy Horses), and serves a prison sentence. He has returned to his sons to “spend quality time” with them, and yet he has an ulterior motive to dig up a field in attempt to find a bag of money he buried before being imprisoned.After playing with their father by the beach, Boy and Rocky hold a noteworthy conversation: Boy explains that if they find the money, then they could move to the city, wear fancy clothes, swim in swimming pools, and ride around in nice cars. Rocky, unconvinced, flatly says he does not wish to go to the city and he does not need swimming pools because he can swim in the ocean.

After playing with their father by the beach, Boy and Rocky hold a noteworthy conversation: Boy explains that if they find the money, then they could move to the city, wear fancy clothes, swim in swimming pools, and ride around in nice cars. Rocky, unconvinced, flatly says he does not wish to go to the city and he does not need swimming pools because he can swim in the ocean.

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The bulk of the narrative centers around the distinct dynamic between Māori father and son, especially within the socio-historical context of 1980s New Zealand, a time, as aforementioned, of ongoing resurgence of Māori identity—Alamein has made bad decisions, but he does not shield his children from them. With the return of their father, Boy and Rocky, must choose whether to dismantle and rebuild their conception of him or to dismiss their father as a role model of how to be Māori.

Towards the end of the movie, Boy goes to his mother’s grave. After smoking a cigarette and drinking a can of beer, he falls backwards from a bridge into a body of water (apparently his river, see pepeha below). His cousin wakes him into consciousness shouting, “Boy! Boy! You’ve got to come home!” Boy then confronts his father with the remnants of the $800NZD his goat ate, immediately distancing himself from his father. The film ends with Boy and his cousins cleaning up the house. Boy finds the Crazy Horse logo once sewn to his father’s jacket laying on the floor and discovers his wood carving, newly finished by Alamein waiting for him on a chair in the garage. Boy then goes to the cemetery with Rocky, and the final scene features the two of them reuniting with a mourning Alamein. Boy supplies viewers with a life-story, narrative model of identity, giving viewers a snapshot into one of Boy’s most formative experiences: his coming to grips with being Māori; his deadbeat father nags at his whakapapa (genealogy), grinding a chink in his Māori identity.

Māori whakapapa does not start with people in their lineage. Whakapapa begins with the land, the mountain their particular iwi bows to and the body of water they value; all of these natural features form the basis of the linguistic structure called pepeha. Lying within the greater mihimihi (introductory speech) framework, a pepeha translates as an aspect of self-introduction. Pepeha must be delivered with “both humility and respect” because it grounds individual identity in their ancestral land, defining them as tangata whenua (people of the land) (Potiki). The normal structure of pepeha includes an individual’s mountain, river, clan/sub-tribe, tribe, canoe, ancestor, family, marae, and parents which makes pepeha linguistically interesting: establishing identity with physical landmarks ensures a type of stability, but it also isolates those who identify as urban Māori. Being reared apart, estranged from “their” mountain, river, clan, etc. disjoints the mind from any spirituality or ownership of the land, especially when city life becomes the replacement.

Using pepeha as a Māori framework of identity excludes many individuals whose parents may have neglected or undermined their ability to learn of or appreciate their connection to the land and their whakapapa. Able to mature within a marae environment, Boy seemingly knew the many facets of his pepeha and appreciated his identity as tangata whenua even though he, like his father, aspired to the Western/Pākehā idea of success. Alamein’s experience mirrored Boy’s, but Alamein failed to grow up and embrace his identity as Māori or tangata whenua. The characters of Boy and Alamein respectfully occupy two approaches to reconcile being or identifying as Māori in the modern state of New Zealand. In a sense, his adolescent perception of self-conflicted with his aspirations to be a “brown Pākehā.” Alamein abandoned his traditional carvings and hometown for the city, joining a gang to drink and smoke marijuana in the process. Though his actions must be qualified by the death of his wife in childbirth, Alamein’s plight and urban, Western lifestyle reflects actions of Māori in the 1980s.

Prevailing concepts of what it means to be Māori depend on “strong associations with whanau (family) hapu (extended family) and iwi (tribe)” as well as “mutual responsibilities” within their kin group (Houkamau and Sibley 10). Despite this, in his two-year (1987-1988) ethnographic study of Māori adolescents around Boy’s age, Dr. Toon van Meijl discovered that for most of his informants, “tribal affiliations were eclipsed by an attachment to the town or city in which they grew up” (924). Adding to their conflicting sense of identity, van Meijl also observed male Māori preferring to skip culture classes (considering Māori culture and language archaic) or sitting in the back to talk “about topics that interested them more, such as the pub, smoking marijuana, rugby union, or TV programmes” (922). To these individuals, ascribing to the “archaic” Māori culture and language implied only a greater likelihood of being unemployed and imprisoned (van Meijl 924). “Māoriness,” then, did not equate with spirituality, a sense of their position as tangata whenua. Perhaps knowing, visiting, or living near natural structures of an individual’s pepeha safeguards them from the woes of Western society.

Boy himself, by his nickname and demeanor, symbolizes every young, pre-adolescent and adolescent Māori boy like the ones in van Meijl’s study who struggle to fashion a narrative of identity “among the social groupings and racial-ethnic categories that exist in [his] society” (Webber 17). Not many of these youths, only about a third of them, feel positive about their culture or feel a deep pride in being, “traditional tangata whenua” (Webber 22). Boy’s experiences epitomize this struggle—he understands and speaks Te Reo, follows tikanga by washing his hands with water after visiting the dead and praying before eating (Higgins), yet he wants for his father, an urban Māori, only to be disappointed. Many Māori depend on family and friendships to validate and inform the formation of their identity (Webber 26, Houkamau 193), so Boy rightly becomes disillusioned with tikanga when he sees his dad deny his own “Māoriness”:

Alamein: Hey, whose is this mean-as carving?
Boy: Oh, mine.
Alamein: Yeah. Looks just like E.T.
Boy: It’s based on one of yours, but it ain’t finished yet.
Alamein: Yeah, I know, ‘cause you ain’t done the eyes. That’s the last thing you do…them eyes.
Boy: Do you still carve?
Alamein: Nup. I ain’t got time for that. (Sighs) I’m a busy man. (Smokes) Mmm. [sic] (Waititi)

Rather than a homogenous identity, “Māoriness” emerges from a “myriad of sometimes conflicting ideas and images around what it means to be Māori” (Houkamau 184). Socio-historical processes shaped New Zealand’s topography, but as Boy came to realize about his father, personal enculturation matters just as much (Houkamau 184). Alamein equates a taonga (treasure) Māori tiki figure with a completely Western/Pākehā creation, E.T., but his son had no intention of mimicking a Pākehā alien. Boy based his own carving on one his father did when he still had his wife to ground him in his traditional Māori identity. Returning to van Meijl’s study, his informants did not mentally identify as Māori and simply regurgitated what their elders told them, initially abandoning any self-conception of identity (928). For some Māori, the process of “coming home” meaning, returning to their marae or ancestral lands, reinvigorates identity, but for others, like Alamein, this action reinforces a negative or unappealing aspect of identity.

These individuals possess a dialogical identity, and they experience negativity about their identity because of in-group hostility between “good Māori” and “bad Māori” (van Meijl 924, 926, 931), socio-economic injustice from the remnants of colonization (924), and improper portrayals of Māori in various mediums (922). Being dialogical in nature, however, makes the formation of their identity “involved in internal and external interchanges” which never reach a “final destination” (Hermans 35). Essentially, these individuals rely on conversations within themselves, but often external Western influences intervene with the internal root of being tangata whenua. In this fluid identity, meaningful connections with the land as the root of identity do prove to be insufficient markers considering that 84% of Māori live in cities (George 438), and yet a spirituality of the land prevails in the minds of their elders. If Boy has anything to say about this, then the youth, like Boy and Rocky, have the ability to resurrect and inherit the teachings of their grandmother—indeed, their father even begins to realize what he gave up in the end. When his money got eaten by a goat and his Pākehā friends abandoned him, he finished Boy’s carving and visited his wife’s grave. His whanau pulled him back up; Boy and Rocky together changed their father but also set a precedent to change the future of Māori.

Pākehā society wrote Alamein into the margins as a “lazy, irresponsible, wasteful, and childlike” subject in need of “Europeanization” (George 441). Alamein saw Pākehā material wealth and partially because of his economic situation, he left for the city for a chance to become the model of an assimilated urban Māori. He did not re-invent his identity; he merely tried to be a “brown Pākehā” because he had been raised within a “socio-historical climate that failed to endorse Māori rights and culture” (Houkamau 193). Alamein had already been far too entrenched in Pākehā culture before the cultural renaissance could reclaim his interest in Māori tikanga. Though, a hint of changing times comes out when Alamein replaced Pākehā material culture (money, marijuana) with his traditional Māori material culture (Boy’s carving). Alamein did not adhere to the prevailing notions of “authentic” indigenous identity. He did not follow his expectations to maintain connections to tikanga and ancestral lands (authentic) and instead went to live in the city and abandon his identity (inauthentic) (George 443).

Pākehā expect Māori to fit into their mold of being indigenous, “oppressively authentic” Māori expect those within their tribal structures to fit into a different mold of being, but individual identity cannot be patterned and shaped by external forces alone. Forming a better understanding of Māori identity and how individuals negotiate identity by having a dialogue within themselves and with society marks the changing notion of urban Māori. Many Māori want to keep their identity alive to prove their strength as an indigenous tangata whenua, and yet they become urbanized because Pākehā culture permeates their own and provides a near unavoidable alternative. Alamein’s “inauthentic” Māori self contrasts with Boy’s marae-grown seemingly “authentic” Māori self, but neither of their identities should be considered correct or incorrect, especially by Pākehā judgment. Pākehā thrust Māori into this situation of having to balance the obtrusive force of Pākehā material culture with their traditional Māori spirituality and associated material culture, but they do not and should not feel compelled to justify their existence to Pākehā or assimilate. Māori, as a group, form a sovereign body, and they, whether urban or not or somewhere in-between, alone possess the power to define themselves.

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Identity returns to the question behind Boy at the start of the film, “Who am I?” A multiplicity of identity exists, but Māori and Pākehā alike tend to refuse or undermine the urbanization of Māori. Those urbanized Alameins need acceptance, need a Boy who straddles both the Māori and Pākehā identities to reawaken the “authentic” Māori in them, but they need not be obligated to return to the marae to reclaim their identity. Boy, indeed the current populous of young Māori boys and girls, know both Pākehā and Māori worlds, but they still need guidance from their elders to inherit the tikanga that once set their people distinctly apart from their colonizers: whether they choose to maintain the spirituality behind tangata whenua or not, they inherit all that their ancestors left. Acknowledgement of the crisis within these individuals of their reconciling Māoriness with an interest in Pākehā culture will build a more inclusive and broader notion of Māori identity.

Works Cited

 Allen, Chadwick. Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Māori Literary and Activist Texts. Durham: Duke UP, 2002. Print.

Angelo, Tony, and Elisabeth Perham. “Let Te Reo Speak: Granting Legal Personality To Te Reo Māori.” Victoria University Of Wellington Law Review 46.4 (2015): 1081-1109. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Boy. Dir. Taika Waititi. Prod. Ainsley Gardiner. Perf. James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, and Taika Waititi. Whenua Films, Unison Films, 2010. DVD.

George, Lily. “Expressions Of Māori Multiplicity In (Re)Connection To Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho.” Social Identities 18.4 (2012): 435-450. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Henderson, April K. “Maori Boys, Michael Jackson Dance Moves, and That 1984 Structure of Feeling.” MEDIANZ MEDIANZ: Media Studies Journal of Aotearoa New Zealand 13.1 (2012): 77-96. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Hermans, Hubert J. M., and Giancarlo Dimaggio. “Self, Identity, and Globalization in times of Uncertainty: A Dialogical Analysis.” Review of General Psychology 11.1 (2007): 31-61. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Higgins, Rawinia. “Tangihanga – Death Customs – Understanding Tangihanga.” Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. New Zealand Government, 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tangihanga-death-customs/page-1

Houkamau, Carla Anne. “Identity Construction And Reconstruction: The Role Of Socio-Historical Contexts In Shaping Maori Women’s Identity.” Social Identities 16.2 (2010): 179-196. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Potiki, Tuari, dir. “Mihimihi/Pepeha.” Māori at Otago. University of Otago, 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. http://maori.otago.ac.nz/reo-tikanga-treaty/te-reo/mihi

Van Meijl, Toon. “Multiple Identifications And The Dialogical Self: Urban Maori Youngsters And The Cultural Renaissance.” Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute 12.4 (2006): 917-933. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Webber, Melinda, Elizabeth McKinley, and John Hattie. “The Importance Of Race And Ethnicity: An Exploration Of New Zealand Pākehā, Māori, Samoan And Chinese Adolescent Identity.” New Zealand Journal Of Psychology 42.2 (2013): 17-28. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.


Images: Grace, Matt, and Darryl Ward. Digital image. Boy. Whenua Films, Unison Films, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. http://boythefilm.com/downloads

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Hobbits and Heroes

Hobbits value, or rather love, “peace and quiet and good tilled earth” (Tolkien, The Fellowship 1). They, with their “mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking” (2) delight in and value simple pleasures, never fighting amongst themselves in a “warlike” manner (5). They behave as Tolkien’s readers, and he speaks directly to this fact when describing these “burrowing, hole-dwelling” (Foster 257) creatures in the prolog to The Lord of the Rings.

It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than Elves, or even than Dwarves. Of old, they spoke the languages of Men, after their own fashion, and liked and disliked much the same things as Men did. But what exactly our relationship is can no longer be discovered (The Fellowship 2).

Here lies the crux of hobbits, their characterization as a distant cousin of readers; consider the inclusive pronouns “ours” and “us” particularly. Hobbits, with their frivolity and pettiness resemble people in the lives of readers, if not the readers themselves. Tolkien based the home of hobbits, the Shire, “more or less [on] a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee” (Garth, “Sam” np.) to further align this species with Englishmen, readers in the primary world. He also meant to make heroes out of them. In their humility, passion for the quotidian, and a firm connection to the earth (they walk without shoes), hobbits maintain a strength and will to persevere against dire odds, not unlike the soldiers in World War I. Both dismantled the traditional idea of hero previously defined by Greek and Roman mythology and epics (especially those of the Germanic variety espousing “Northern courage”).

The “modern literary hero” rests on the literary perception of “modern,” meaning after World War I (1914-1918) and involving “a deliberate and radical break with some of the traditional bases…of Western culture” (Abrams 167). Epics, mythology, and literature at large, stand as some of the “traditional bases.” Studying Greek and Latin works at King Edward’s School as well as focusing on Classics and comparative philology at Oxford provided Tolkien with a superb knowledge of Western culture’s bedrock texts (Garth, “John Ronald Reuel Tolkien” 2-3). Tolkien had knowledge enough of the action hero archetype (so pervasive in epics) to do as Abrams suggests: he modernized the hero, radically breaking (167) or rather uprooting this archetype to plant a new hero, a hobbit.

Tolkien’s service in WWI factored into his definition of hobbits as modern literary heroes. He saw his battalion decimated, took part in the battle of the Somme, and lost all but one of his close friends by 1918 (Garth, “Tolkien” 2-3). Tolkien recalled his experience in the war enough to allude to WWI soldiers in his translation of Beowulf (another example of the “traditional bases”), providing the following commentary: “Even to-day (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them” (Tolkien, “Beowulf” 113). Certainly a hero “is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance” (Abrams 77), but WWI showcased the psychological wreckage of an entire generation of young men caused by action in the war. Focusing on the soldier as a subjectively complex, thinking individual changed the idea of war as well as the hero. This focus made the hero modern by undercutting traditional heroes like Achilles, Aeneas, and Beowulf. Philosopher and classicist, Angie Hobbs, summarizing Plato and attempting to formally modernize the hero, sees passion as a replacement for the traditional martial valor in the characterization of heroes (Bragg). The modern hero, then, would maintain a greatness of soul, the refusal to submit, and a calm, strong endurance of misfortune (Bragg).

The four central hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, exemplify all three of these characteristics and deserve the title as passionate modern heroes. To Tolkien, WWI was an “utter stupid waste” and a “moral and spiritual” detriment “to those who have [had] to endure it” (Garth, “Writing” 3). But, soldiers endured the “animal horror,” serving passionately for their family, brotherhood, and nation (Garth, “Tolkien” 2-3) just as Sam served Frodo; the hobbits (collectively), Middle-earth. Sam proves to be the best example out of the hobbits for characterizing them as heroes, for he stands as a “reflexion” of Tolkien’s WWI batmen rolled into one (Garth, “Sam” np.). His dedication and perseverance baffles readers as he says to Frodo, “I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, which I want – I don’t rightly know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me” (The Fellowship 85). Sam formally addresses Frodo here (in his typical fashion), and tells of an unseen need to keep going—Sam maintains a greatness of soul by coming to terms with his needs; he refuses to submit and return to the Shire after seeing the elves, and though not presently obvious, his calm but strong endurance of misfortune comes out later during his and Frodo’s perilous journey to Mordor. He satisfies all the aforesaid criteria while lacking any epic, privileged background. He has no expectations, making his actions even more heroic.

In Moria, the traditional hero, Aragorn, cries the name of his ancestor, “Elendil!” (The Fellowship 322), while the modern hero, Frodo, cries the name of his home, “The Shire!” (316). Their values differ here—Aragorn thinks of his expectations, thrust upon him by his epic background, and Frodo thinks of his home like any common reader would. A chink in this hypothesis, of the hobbits as modern heroes without any grandiose beginnings resides Frodo, Merry, and Pippin being upper class. Frodo came into wealth through his uncle, Bilbo, Merry is the Master of Buckland’s son (Foster 331), and Pippin is the “thirty-second Thain of the Shire (14-64) and a Counsellor of the North-kingdom (14-64)” (Foster 401). Their priviledged backgrounds, however, do not factor into how they see themselves, and they, unlike other members of the Company, do not introduce themselves as “Frodo son of Drogo” (The Fellowship 316). Still, Sam serves as the prime example of the modern literary hero. He is merely a gardener, but his loyalty and steadfastness endure to the end.

All the other members of the Company or Fellowship come from royal, celebrated, or privileged genealogical roots whereas the hobbits seem less concerned with the upper echelon, resembling the origins of modern day readers. For instance, Aragorn descends from Númenórean prince Isildur [and is his heir (The Fellowship 241)]; he remains the last Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North (Foster 122). He may have been introduced as a “grim” Ranger in a pub (The Fellowship 153), but his history distances him from readers—because of his background, heroic deeds expected of him, and even his elevated diction make him inaccessible. As a member of the Dúnedain, he “knew and spoke an Elvish tongue,” which he often infused into his speech (“Appendix F” 1102). The elves appear even more distant than Aragorn: they are wholly divine beings. Prince of the Woodland Realm (Foster 140) and sole elf of the Company, Legolas exclaims the English word “Alas! Alas!” at the Council of Elrond to announce his highly formal introduction (The Fellowship 248). Gimli, son of Glóin (Foster 208) has a similar introduction: an antiquated exchange of axioms with Elrond (The Fellowship 274) marks his first stretch of dialogue, removing him, establishing his diction as higher than the hobbits. The Common Speech, as adopted by hobbits, was used “freely and carelessly,” but “the more learned among them had still at their command a more formal language when occasion required” (“Appendix F” 1104). Indeed, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin shy away from such elevated diction (except when addressing Elves), contrary to epic convention, and their lexicons feature simpler terms and a heavy use of contractions (The Fellowship 48, 273, 276, 90) that parallel modern, colloquial English. They talk like Tolkien’s readers.

From these ideas, crafting a generalization like, “Most accessible, modern literary heroes have values, behavior, and speech pattern like humans,” demands accompanying and relevant premises to characterize it as a cogent argument. Consider the following premises: Hobbits are accessible to the reader; Hobbits are modern literary heroes; Hobbits have values, behavior, and speech patterns like humans. Rearranging these premises as the above essay does yield the cogent argumentative pattern as defined by Richard Feldman in Reason and Argument (86):

  1. x is an A. (Hobbits are accessible to the reader)
  2. x is a B. (Hobbits are modern literary heroes)
  3. Most ABs are Cs (Most accessible, modern literary heroes have  values, behavior, and speech pattern like humans)
  1. x is C. (Hobbits have values, behavior, and speech patterns like humans)

Some paragraphs adjust some wording to expound upon the premises and provide linguistic flourishes for aesthetics, but the generalization remains that hobbits are accessible, modern literary heroes (with passion, etc.) because they value, like and dislike “the same things,” eat and drink “the same things,” and speak the same way as readers (The Fellowship 2). The hobbits provide hope for the humble and self-conscious, illustrating that even the smallest individuals can perform truly epic feats in the face of peril.


Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College, 1999. Print.

Bragg, Melvyn, prod. “Heroism.” In Our Time. BBC Radio 4. London, England, 6 May 2004. Radio. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y282

Feldman, Richard. Reason and Argument. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.

Foster, Robert. The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: From the Hobbit to The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine, 1979. Print.

Garth, John. “John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 1892-1973.” Handout. 11 July 2016.

Garth, John. “Sam Gamgee and Tolkien’s Batmen.” John Garth. Beverly Rogers, Carol C Harter Black Mountain Institute, UNLV, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 July 2016. https://johngarth.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/sam-gamgee-and-tolkiens-batmen/

Garth, John. “World War I and Tolkien.” Handout. 15 July 2016.

Garth, John. “World War I Writing and Disenchantment.” Handout. 15 July 2016.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “Appendix F.” The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston, NY: Mariner, 2012. 1101-112. Print.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Beowulf: A Verse Translation: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Daniel Donoghue. Trans. Seamus Heaney. New York: Norton, 2002. 102-30. Print.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Mariner /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

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Of Mongolian Throat Singing

In the innermost part of the stars above our heads, a nuclear fission reaction continually churns out various elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Gravity takes hold of these elements, and just like after the Big Bang, condenses them to create planets, and, ultimately, life. We humans are made of stardust. There are secrets of the universe that astronomers know, from the smallness of our world, how far things are in space-time, and to realize that when we look up into vast darkness or perfect blue sky, we’re seeing the past.

 

I walked past a pickup truck, and the smell of gasoline danced up my nostrils along with a memory of my brother. With his then sky blue eyes and white blonde hair, he asked for a ring of keys, blue jeans, walkie talkie, and a tall hat to be like his uncle. The petroleum mixed with a whiff of flat, sun-dried Pepsi cola, and tire raised dirt. James Taylor entered my ears.

 

You witness a most unusual phenomenon of a boy and a girl, both not yet toddlers, sitting head to head facing each other for hours on end. Their parents thought the two were connecting brain waves or some such nonsense, but they knew that their children were best friends from the start. The boy often engaged the girl in odd little adventures: equipped with a toy Jeep, they drove into the stars and through every time period they knew in their little heads, and with a dilapidated washing machine rusted to disuse in the backyard, they imagined a space ship and moonwalked into the extra-terrestrial. In the car, Lady Madonna danced through their ears while they made the sun-shade a super computer, typing long numerical codes on the polyester to signal ultimate destruction for far off worlds.

 

            It takes 8 minutes for sunlight to reach the Earth—if the sun exploded, which it will at some point, we wouldn’t know about it for 8 whole minutes.

 

The two children, siblings, seventeen months apart. They were inseparable. Nicholas and Annalisa, both intentionally eight letter names, became two names that would forever go together. Shortened, Nicholas became Nick, four letters; Annalisa, Anna. The children slept in the same room together, ate together, played together. Daylight never went on long enough.

 

Nicholas had always been there for his sister. He was the first born son; she, an accident. Although the Palmer family had not known that Nicholas would have a sibling, they were happy to have Annalisa in their family. The two children acted like twins once Annalisa was born. She, being six months early and weighing only two and a half pounds, almost died after being born. Her father frequently compared her to a Chipotle burrito considering she fit in his hand. Additional complications arose besides her weight. The baby girl was diagnosed with pneumonia a few days after her birth, and at the hospital, the doctors had direr news: a small hole punctured her heart. Fortunately, her body somehow healed itself, and she lived. Nicholas was also a miracle; his mother stands by the fact that she does not make babies well. He weighed around seven pounds, and part of his brain was compromised. After being in labor for three days, my mother gave birth. He breathed his first breath soundlessly. Nicholas John Palmer lived.

 

While sound waves cannot exist in space, light waves can be translated into sound waves. We can hear what the universe sounds like artificially, but we all live under its silent chorus.

 

It was Mongolian throat singing all the way to Arizona. The hardly melodic grunts supposedly treasured by the Tuvan inhabitants of the nomadic nation and Norwegian oregano gravy were two of the five things talked about in the car. In 120-degree heat going 90 miles an hour, hearing “music” resembling someone regurgitating their food while constipated is the last thing you want entering your ears. The passenger immediately behind the driver lost any of his sanity once the throat singing began—he loved this “song.” With a great heave of air, he mimicked the Tuvan master rather horribly while the rest of the passengers shoved fingers into their ears. When our auditory slapping reached its denouement, the backseat vocalist allowed there to be silence. This was my brother, Nicholas, at 21.

 

Throat singing aims to amplify the sounds of nature, adding to the symphony of life. As a folk tradition of nomads, the singing intermixes with the howling winds of the steppes, chimes of streaming water, and the staccato interludes of various wildlife. Take that out of context, reproduce it on a CD, and what comes out of plastic speakers in a midnight blue Nissan Altima is rather ridiculous.

 

Then again, he never harmonized with the chorus of the universe, silent though it is. Sure, his blue eyes matched the sky while mine blended into the midnight darkness, but he was something different. He unsurprisingly sang from his throat, embracing its two tone nature. A kind of duality permeates his being, and we, however connected, will always be opposites.

 

Is that it? Where’s the funny universe that your brother seems to inhabit? Where does this all connect to your details about how the world works, the stars, the sun exploding, etcetera?

Well, my brother does have the ability to create controlled explosions throughout the lives of his friends and family. The whole throat singing business began in September of 2013 when he received his mission call to Mongolia. I’d insert a Genghis Khan joke here, but I don’t do jokes. He arrived in Ulaanbaatar in December, and stayed there until October of 2015. Now, he’s back there again—he fell in love while speaking in tongues—and he will return with his fiancé on July 17, 2016. Mind you, her family herds sheep and other livestock in the Gobi Desert, a lucrative business for nomads. Now, we have a wedding to plan and prepare for…Mongolia broke the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.

Yes, before the Mongolia incident, you must know that he was fluent in Japanese. He has this insane ability to memorize languages, especially those of the Altaic variety. For instance, now he’s learning Arabic and Turkish for the hell of it, but he took four years of Japanese in high school, won several speech contests, took the AP Japanese test, got the highest score (5), and then passed the national Japanese Language Proficiency Test. He did this all without a bat of an eye. He doesn’t jive with the whims of the universe. And as he came into this world soundlessly, maybe he mastered the chorus. Perhaps, to contradict myself, his song is the song of the universe, and everything works out for him because he accepts it. He capitalizes on what life has given him—he doesn’t have to hope for the best; he always gets the best. To him, everything must work out, everything will be fine, he just has to shock the world and destroy some things, but he remains seemingly invincible.

And, that’s ok. From his 5 A.M. runs and cycling ventures he loves to invite me on to his adamant piano playing by ear (he can’t read music), he’s my best friend who just happens to be my brother. I don’t see my life without him begging me to play chess at 8 P.M. or flinging impersonations of Gollum into my room at 10 P.M. I don’t see it being as funny without him asking me to shoot aliens or binge watch Doctor Who with him at 12 A.M. or asking me about reality, if we really exist, what’s the difference between faith, belief, and fact at 6 A.M.

I write this because he has chosen another path than I. He’s stayed with our childhood religion and will progress in it by being married on July 30, 2016 in the Saint George temple. His fiancé speaks no English, and she has a long way to go before becoming a U.S. citizen. He has chosen marriage earlier than I ever would have expected, and I just hope he’s happy. All his randomness and our childish excursions together will evaporate into memory as soon as he kisses the bride. We can’t continue these antics. I’m losing a friend, but he’s gaining a lifelong partner who I hope to befriend. I want him to know I’ll miss him, but he’s secretly telling me to grow up, find my own love, and get on with adulthood. Nothing will ever be the same, and yet the sky will continue its crescendo into perfect morning blue and its diminuendo into blackness until the two-toned song stops.


Works Cited

Bennett, Jeffrey O. The Cosmic Perspective. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.

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Are You Looking After Yourself

I sat in the musky car, rolled down the windows, and let the night seep into my empty stomach. The memory of those elders melted away from the heat sneaking in beneath my hat. Neon lights flickered past the raging drivers as I let the car coast. The stereo played long and loud while I let my left arm hang out the window. To the cadence of undulating rushes of heavy air, I sporadically opened and closed my fist. Youth. The elastic silky skin of my face and taut stomach muscles. I studied my forehead in the rear view mirror. Wind hit me in the face, drying my lips. Windows went up. Time poised to a near stop in this instance. Shards of broken lights scattered on the mosaic of neon through the passenger windows, and as I sped down the freeway, pops of headlights flew into my vision.

 

Wrinkles twinkled about the edges of her eyes while she stoically sat, knitting in her airplane seat. Each hand worked away on a scarf; needle upon needle joining the tiny threads to create a fabulous new garment. Every few seconds some straggly fuzz flicked out of the needle, sealing her image in my memory. With a blurt, the comical noise of her thigh rubbing blue leather, I blinked, only to find a projection of an elderly man’s braced legs in my mind. His suspenders ground into his white polo, and he trudged along to find tomatoes in the fluorescently lit supermarket. Then it shifted to a hunched back professor shuffling to the bathroom: her bright eyes contrasted with her time corrupted cheeks and forehead. Still her flat hair, a light brown, cut into a neat bob, brushed perfectly against her jawline. And the airplane seat creaks. I wait a bit, blinking again into hazy internal glimpses. I see the knitter’s flushed face smiling down at the progress she made.

 

They said that this stretch of hours, days, years is the time of your life, the highlight of your whirlwind existence as animated matter. Locks of curl whip around my cheeks. 65. 70. 75. 80. 85. A syrupy stew of black heat hugs the side of the road, cloaking the automobiles, and I alone propel ahead of them. I can’t see those smiling grandmas or those hunched elders now, only the road lays ahead brightly lit by slithering streetlights. I see my face again, shamefully praying I don’t get old. My face holds the etching of my days. I wonder how it will fit them all.

 

How vain I am to begin my mental obsession with youth. And yet, why do I see such beauty in these passing elders. Society says they deserve pity not some marveling thoughts of a twenty-year-old. Go help that old lady out. Don’t stand there infantilizing her. Go give your grandpa a hug, young lady, he’ll only be here so long. He’s a human being; he can make decisions for himself, do things by himself—he still has agency. Come on, he’s old. Whatever.

 

What am I doing with myself? I wish to be old—to have my busy days past me, and yet I treasure my youth, my ability to simply do without inhibition. Why then, am I cooped up, slaving over project after project, trying to tell myself that I am happy being a workhorse. I am happy being a student. I am happy being stressed beyond belief. I can’t be masochistic.

 

Sample graduate school interview questions:

What are your hobbies?

I don’t know.

What do you do in your spare time?

I don’t have any.

What are you doing with this beautiful time when you have arrived at your most attractive, most physically fit, most alive? I hope they’re lying. I hope that those smiling elders are happy now because their dispositions have changed. That’s possible. Perhaps they too faced their own type of plastic bag over your head suffocating stress. I don’t know. The one thing that bothers me is their blissful happiness. It’s like they’re children all over again, and here I am, on the first step into my twenties, and I only see blackness—stairs leading to nowhere. I’m afraid. I’ll fall. There’s no railing to clamp my hands onto. I can’t gingerly step down one stair at a time. I must go down, head first, because it’s just me. It’s my life whether I like it or not. This time as a “new adult” is mine. I must remember. I don’t want to concoct a lie; construe some educational thing I do or something I hate into a so-called hobby. I don’t have spare time, but that’s my own fault. Yes, there’s the rub. Time—the destroyer of everything, the common denominator of all life, and what does my family constantly berate me about—how I use or misuse it.

 

You should get that hair out of your eyes. You have such a beautiful face, young lady, said my 80? 90? year-old great Aunt Carla, immediately touching my hair and tugging it behind my ears. She just broke her right femur falling down a couple flights of stairs. She’s still alive—it’s hard to kill a Cox.

 

Those boys love a pretty face.

 

She pushes me constantly, same as my mom. That’s the one thing I can’t think about: Do you have a boyfriend? No. Come on, sweetie, don’t you like someone? Well actually yes, I do now, but I think it’s unrequited. Look at your friends and twenty-something family members all getting married. Mom and dad hate them and think they’re crazy and never going to be as successful as you. April got married last year—you’ve never been on a date. That hike with Steven counts since we hiked until sunset, that’s romantic. No, he was a friend. Timothy asked you to prom even though you were graduating early, that counts. Of course it doesn’t, you said no because of a calculus test. You’re pathetic. Try again.

When Aunt Carla touches your face, her hands nearly set your cheeks ablaze. You never could figure out why she resembled a walking furnace, especially with her ridiculously dyed red hair. Face it. You need something else to live for besides good grades and props from professors. You’re not in high school anymore. In fact, you’re a senior in college. Truly figure out why you want a college education besides money and the chance at a better paying job. You still have time. What about relationships, emotional intelligence, and overall happiness?

There, much better.

She whispered in my ear as it burned.

 

The road turns again. For a split second I close my eyes once more, getting ready for more wind to curl up around my eyelashes. I see that knitting grandma, that suspendered grandpa, that flat haired professor, and now my brutal Aunt Carla invading my thoughts. They flicker away as quick as I blink, and I begin to retreat into my mind once more to that first step on the staircase. Time hasn’t changed you, has it, but you’ll keep wearing your woes on your face. Time will inevitably knit a scarf for you, and as you try to smile down at it, you’ll know your fate. You will never be that kind old lady on the blue leather airplane seat. It’s all in your head. You just don’t know how to turn-off.

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Whisper No

Here you lie restlessly awake between the flailing skies and siren wails. The unquiet distance and auditory rape continues, and you see reality as it comes and goes. Six minutes into the raw new day what more do you see but reckless youth and piercing lights from bars blocks away. There’s more than this shrieking existence: peel back the idiosyncrasies and reveal the innocuous—the place where life is dull and meaningless. You are barred from this place.

You cannot, will not ever live with or in the bland quotidian; life will always mean pain and penury for you. And yet, do you see anything coming to change who you are? Don’t you see you exist for no reason? This is all a scam. No,

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it”

(Flannery O’Connor, Letter to Betty Hester, September 6, 1955).

Suck it up. Bar down on whatever bit of stringy meat you have left on your bones. Squeeze the filth that has accumulated on your thighs, and realize that you, in your meat sack of a body, are worthless. Sit up. Walk to your bathroom sink, and scald your hands in the water from that rusted faucet. Life is not for you. You understand that you’ll never be strong enough to look past the nihilism written in your bones. What about existentialism—don’t get yourself worked up about something for nothing. You know your own truth. You found out what was happening, and now you merely must live with the pain and associated turpentine temperament.

“an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything…only a fool can become something” (Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground).

Let hate boil in your marrow. Get angry at the world. It’s Saturday and time for you to rage against the world for one day. For tomorrow you’re supposed to sit and be still in some religious institution, but really, why are you there? Why do you waste an hour or three praying to an ill-willed, frivolous, non-existent being? Networking. Feign faith to extract wealth—it’s humanity at its finest.

Come back to your derelict apartment above strewn out simpletons and part time hookers to realize your place in the world. At least you’re somewhat above them. At least you’re going to college and “doing something” with your life. But don’t forget to grimace at the sordid slums you live in. You wanted to be anywhere but here—remember. Don’t forget to pick up those groceries or do your laundry. Look to material wealth after you complete these maintenance rituals.

Fix those sleeping problems, take your medication, and be sure to call mom. What about your treatment. It’s time for you to go chug a liter of water while you chain yourself to that revolving once-torture mill. No that’s later. Go back to sleep. Those freaks in their disgusting soiled clothes scream from the concrete slab below. They will soon pass out from their squalor, and then you’ll go on and scrape the rough cotton sheets on your limbs, trying to eke out some kind of rest even though you know it’s not possible. Evidently, it’s 4 A.M.

“And do you know what ‘the world’ is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end… This world is the will to power—and nothing besides!” (Nietzsche, Will to Power’s aphorism 1067).

We limp through our lives with nothing more than the supposedly evolutionarily favorable bodies of bipedal, hairless apes. What is our purpose. In the tired eyes of the moonlight, we are nothing, but we are everything. We are made of stardust, but then isn’t everything connected to us? The sea bed of existence bears no meaning, no glinting treasure left for us remains uncovered. Going through the motions established by a fallible group of humans in a system corrupt as any eighteenth century king does not gratify us. Examining the scum of humanity at our doorsteps does nothing to boost our morale. We live for some reason. We, the human race, persist for some undetermined reason. We can’t seem to reason anything better to do than to molest the Earth, killing everything in our path: this is our will to power. We are all monsters. Even the supposed façade of civilization does nothing to hide the malformed, malcontented psyches ruling our actions. Our race is sick, and yet, we live on in our vegetable existences.

I need a fresh start. I stare down the street from this ridiculous rectangular prism, and I think:

“Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter” (Albert Camus, The Stranger).

I’ve been fed on a diet of commercialization and corruption. I’ve grown up in a schizophrenic mecca of gaudy America. Consume and consume, my friends; welcome to the modern world. Forget your woes, and remember you’re here to make money, spend it, devour to your hearts content, and die. This is a place of pleasure; enjoy. But, don’t forget the progress erected beneath your feet, the fabulous pacifier to reality. Consider the technology, materialism, consumerism, etc. and the legacy of humankind.

I remove my hands from my face. I return to myself here in the present. I study my hands, the intricate markings on the dermis suddenly appear as a map leading to somewhere. The self will always be with us—progress does not murder self-reflection.

 

Foaming about the edges of the vast scatterings of humanity, hope tries to find its way, tries to bubble over but to no avail. Hope means nothing: there’s only good and bad without any rotting leftovers in between.

 

Sweeping bodies from mountains to deserts chart out the spherical nature of our world—writhing pain and suffering only join it together. Can’t you see that’s all the human race has inflicted upon its dwelling? Our niche makes us suicidal: we mark our territory by destroying every other sentient being currently occupying a space we wish to own. There’s no point in prolonging this existence if it means destruction. Where’s the righting species, the higher than human exterminator, Dr. Manhattan, coming to set us right? We will never know how to become stewards of the earth if we maintain this dearth of understanding and kindness. Productivity may give way to progress, but when does it become a hindrance to our naturalistic impulses—our calculating love, if we have it, for animals in our past evolutions as mammals, a love for those things we could have become. Denying the past spores and imminent flaws of the future creates an epidemic of ignorance and a self-centered, utilitarian approach to progress in the name of progress. Where is the place for those kind souls who seek degrowth?

 

What would happen if we just stopped?

 

 

 

 

 

There.

Stop breathing.

Stop pushing, going, flowing, moving.

 

 

Stop.

And breathed again.

 

You all go and continue your demolition if you’d like…Destroy the ecosystem, and forget us. We don’t want to come to your sadistic party. Leave us to our own devices. We will be the ones who walk away. We will be the ones who you say do nothing by doing something. You will mock us, but we will be examples to your children because we chose not to conform. We were the ones who did something while we had the chance to slowly dismantle the system by cutting ourselves off from it. And, that’s ok. That simple act of defiance will mean something to the soil we softly tread on, and you will see the many that follow in our barren footsteps towards this something, a second chance.