Archive for the ‘ESSAYS’ Category

 
“I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.”
~ preface to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I came across this amazing research essay called “Oliver Twist: Divine Child” and it fascinated me because I have always identified with Oliver, and this only reminded me of the many spooky correlations with my own life. Many of the characters even bear resemblance to people from my own story. Check it out if you are interested here: http://www.academia.edu/2631456/Oliver_Twist_Divine_Child_A_Jungian_interpretation 
I hope that the author will let me know if if there are any issues with me copying the link here…
 
Peace be with you,
Olive ~♥~
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The subject of mental dysfunction and depression is addressed by Joan Didion in “The White Album” and F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up”. Their treatment of this subject is similar and distinctive in several ways. Fitzgerald and Didion both reflect back to the time when they first realized that something was going awry in their minds, but Fitzgerald writes in a more straightforward and analytical manner about himself. He uses metaphor and humor more often, and Didion uses more physical description of objects and people to depict what is going on inside her mind.

 
In Fitzgerald’s essay, he writes about a nervous breakdown with an expository style, comparing his mental state to a broken plate. He tells the reader with startling honesty: “-And then, ten years this side of forty-nine, I suddenly realized that I had prematurely cracked” (140). Then he gradually reveals the details of his mental state:

I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me was only an attempt to love….in the same month, I became bitter about such things as the sound of the radio, the advertisements in magazines, the screech of tracks, the dead silence of the country…hating the night when I couldn’t sleep and hating the day because it went toward night. (142)

He looks back at the warning signs that he did not recognize at the time, very clearly portraying the torments that he was experiencing, with such clarity that it almost makes the reader want to draw back, and examine whether they are familiar with such feelings. Then he describes how he began to feel a sense of worthlessness, and again uses the plate metaphor in a poignant fashion:

Sometimes, though, the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under leftovers. (144)

He is amazingly artful in his use of a common household object to depict himself as feeling inadequate for everyday purposes and ambitions, and it makes the reader feel sadness for the broken plate. The plate becomes almost a Disney animated character with feelings similar to “The Brave Little Toaster.”

 
Fitzgerald describes the middle of the night anxieties that are common to most humans when he writes “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance of the death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day” (144). This passage actually has shock effect, because the reader is brought to the horrible realization that some people experience the three o’clock a.m. agonies throughout every day. In the same expository style, he informs the reader that “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement- discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint” (146). He clarifies his own condition so well, making it evident that this species of discouragement is totally irrational and based on anxieties that have no rational basis. Then he says in a humorous tone, “I have the sense of lecturing now, looking at a watch on the desk before me and seeing how many more minutes-” (147). This humor is much needed at this point in his essay, because by now the reader is feeling very labored and distressed, and needs a bit of lightness. The watch also seems to connote an attempt to regain some control of his environment by measuring the time.

 
Joan Didion also writes as one looking back upon the years when her mental struggles began to manifest themselves. She said that it all started with her beginning to question all of the things that she had held true:

I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. I suppose this period began around 1966 and continued until 1971. During those five years, I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another… (421)

The vagueness of her sentences creates a feeling that truth was becoming blurry to her, that nothing is really clear any more. She visits a psychiatrist and supplies the reader with his findings:

Patient’s thematic productions on the Thematic Apperception Test emphasize her fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and depressive view of the world around her. It is as though she feels deeply that all human effort is foredoomed to failure, a conviction which seems to push her further into a dependent, passive withdrawal. (423)

She is expository in a way that is similar to Fitzgerald, but she describes her depression and anxiety without the metaphor or humor. However, she later uses language to present her confusion and growing paranoia in a fashion that engages the reader with dislocated scenes and events. In this segment, she describes a night when The Doors came to her house to practice before cutting an album:

There were three of the Four Doors. There was the bass player borrowed from the Clear Light. There were the producer and engineer and the road manager and a couple of girls and a Siberian husky named Nikki with one gray eye and one gold. There were paper bags half filled with hard-boiled eggs and chicken livers and cheeseburgers and empty bottles of apple juice and California rosé. There was everything and everybody The Doors needed to cut the rest of this third album except one thing, the fourth Door…(428)

The reader is entangled in this twisted collage of mismatched people and foods and the sense of disorder. The two colors of the eyes of the husky, the empty bottles, and the half-filled bags all seem to connote the growing vacuum of confusion and tension in the mind of the author. It also creates a strong sense of the time period and a subliminal feeling of being on mind-altering drugs.

 
As a reporter, Didion often had to prepare for travel on the spur of the moment. She describes a travel list that she kept on hand during this time, a list of things to collect before she departed on her frequent trips:

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, one article I needed and never had: a watch….I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during this period or of the period itself. (438)

Here again is the watch, the symbol of control over one’s environment. This passage bears a resemblance to Fitzgerald, in that it depicts that the author is slipping into instability and a terrifying loss of control. The missing watch is an effective metaphor to recount a restless and chaotic time, and the author’s feeling that she was a victim of this time period in many ways.

 
The styles of both Didion and Fitzgerald allow the reader to go inside their minds and feel their pain and hopelessness. While Didion writes with an unpredictable style that creates a colorful collage of experiences, Fitzgerald is more analytical and stays on a set course in his writing.

Works Cited

The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000. Print.

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I thought my readers might enjoy a series of short critical essays I wrote during graduate school about a variety of writers and subjects.  The first one is about the article called “He Knew He was Right” by Ian Parker in which he portrays Christopher Hitchens, the infamous spokesman for atheists who has since passed away.

Be aware that my formatting seems to be lost when I post here, even though I try in various ways to keep everything in order.

I hope that you gain something from the essays, and that all is well with you as you continue your own journeys.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

Ian Parker Portrays a Man of Polarizations

In the New Yorker article He Knew He Was Right, Ian Parker brilliantly portrays the political analyst and writer Christopher Hitchens. The author raises many questions about this man of contradictions who seems to delight in controversy and keeping an air of mystery around himself.

While raising questions about “the Hitchens apostasy, which runs from revolutionary socialism to a kind of neo-conservatism (141)”, Parker artistically and visually brings Hitchens into focus for the reader:

He still writes a great deal, at a speed at which most people read. And, at fifty-seven, he still has an arrest-photograph air about him- looking like someone who, with as much dignity as possible, has smoothed his hair and straightened his collar after knocking the helmet off a policeman (137).

By contrasting the image of a mug shot photo with the man smoothing his hair and straightening his collar, the writer uses physical description to show the reader how confusing this man’s personality can be.

He then shows Hitchens transforming from one character to another, when he describes a disagreement between Hitchens and some women over former presidential candidate Howard Dean:

….His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour (139).

Parker masterfully shows how Hitchens’s facial expressions can dramatically change in a moment if something brushes up against his current opinion.

He again addresses the matter of opposing attitudes and shifting views when he writes:

…those familiar with Hitchens’s work know that he has always thrived on sectarian battles, and always looked for ‘encouraging signs of polarization,’ a phrase he borrowed from his late friend Israel Shahak, the Israeli activist (141).

He seems to be suggesting here that Hitchens merely enjoys the drama of the battle, and that he is simply a performer, who can switch roles with ease.

At other times, Parker seems to admire Hitchens as a man who simply exercises his right to change his mind or make alterations to his views as he gains more knowledge about a subject. Sometimes, he seems to present Hitchens as someone who knows too much about the inner workings and corruption in government, and is tormented by that knowledge, which causes him to drink constantly and behave in other strange ways. He shows the darker side of his subject when he says:

…I arrived just before midday, and Hitchens said that it was “time for a cocktail”; he poured a large drink. His hair flopped over his forehead, and he pushed it back using the tips of his fingers, his hand as unbending as a mannequin’s (144).

The simile of the mannequin’s hand seems to represent how cold and unyielding Hitchens can be towards people of opposing views on issues.

Parker also shows more of the complexity of Hitchens’s character when he says: “At times, Hitchens can look like a brain trying to pass as a muscle. He reads the world intellectually, but emphasizes his physical responses to it” (155). He points out that often Hitchens tries to demonstrate his masculinity in the way that he reports in physical terms, as if he is a soldier in a real war, and not just a spectator writing about a subject.

Then Parker artistically uses Hitchens’s style of writing to show how he never backs up to make concessions or compromises about his opinions even when his views have radically fluctuated over time:

…He almost never uses the backspace, delete, or cut-and-paste keys. He writes a single draft, at a speed that caused his New Statesman colleagues to place bets on how long it would take him to finish an editorial. What emerges is ready for publication, except for one weakness: he’s not an expert punctuator, which reinforces the notion that he is in the business of transcribing a lecture he can hear himself giving (164).

It is very masterful how the writer uses visual scenes and incidents to show the nuances of Hitchens and his character. By juxtaposing Hitchens’s physical demeanor with his ideological inconsistencies, the author reveals how Hitchens can be such an anomaly to everyone around him. Parker cleverly leaves the reader with no answers but only more questions- the profile ends as an unsolved mystery about a man that knows he is always right.

Works Cited

Parker, Ian. “He Knew He was Right.” Best Magazine Writing 2007. (2007): 137-167.

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Whenever I read about primaries and elections going on and people talking about liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, I get very frustrated, because I don’t see how either of the political parties line up with Christ’s teachings. I find it annoying when people try to say that the Republican party is the Christian party. I just don’t see it, and many minority Christians I know are very confused by this notion as well. As an actual historical figure, I would say that Jesus would bear more resemblance to Gandhi than Glenn Beck.

We live in a country where people are supposedly allowed to speak their opinions freely, and I support that wholeheartedly. But I don’t like it when people try to validate their politics by giving it some sort of divine authority or approval. It shows that some people have distorted eyesight when it comes to their vision of Christ.

After studying about the life of Jesus for many years, I can see more parallels between His teachings and Democrats than I can with Republicans. He was an advocate of social justice and blessed the poor during His beautiful sermon on the mount. When hungry people were around, He dropped everything and fed them. He interfered with an attempt at capital punishment when Mary was about to be stoned for adultery. He encouraged women to use all of their gifts and talents, and He liberated them from their accepted roles (read about Mary and Martha). He was utterly nonviolent throughout His life and ministry and He never toted a weapon. He told Peter to put away his sword when he tried to defend Jesus with it. He paid His taxes without argument and so did His earthly parents. He never tried to get rich. I don’t see how Jesus could ever be considered a Republican or even a capitalist. He wasn’t even an American, but people seem to think Heaven is draped with the American flag.

On the flip side I don’t believe He would have liked abortion either, because He said not to hinder the little children from coming to Him. Harming them by any means whether in wars, clinics, or while attending school in my view would constitute a hindrance. Thankfully children will go to Him anyway but that is not to our credit.

The reality is that Jesus is compassionate to everyone- women, children, and even messed up people like me. That’s why I love Him in the first place.

Now these are my opinions, and you are welcome to disagree but please be nice about it. I respect your opinions but I humbly assert that Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat, because His kingdom is not of this world.

So please don’t try to use His name as a party endorsement.

~♥~

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19th century painting of Our Lady.

I have been in Protestant circles for most of my life, and I find it curious that I have never heard a full-length sermon about the Virgin Mary, although her name pops up fleetingly and most often at Christmas.  I have often wondered why she is not properly spoken of in the context of Mother’s Day or other occasions considering that she was such a powerful and pure instrument of God. She is an amazing example of how every woman of God and mother should be. Although she was not rich or famous, she demonstrated a noble spirit and character that everyone could learn from. She remained humble even when she was chosen to perform the most amazing work for God’s plan.

Have you ever wondered why Christ didn’t just come down here on a fiery chariot like the one that Elijah departed in, or why He didn’t just walk here like Enoch or float down from Heaven on a cloud heralded by the sound of angelic trumpets? 

It seems to me that God wanted Jesus to enter here the same way that we all do, to experience being a helpless innocent child for a season.  And God wanted Him to have a mother while He was in this world as a seal of His humanity, and because there is nothing on Earth that compares to the love of a mother.

I did not care for some aspects of the movie “Passion of the Christ.” It was far too graphic for my taste, and it seemed like the director wanted to make Jesus into another Braveheart. But I did find one thing especially moving in the film:  the powerful presence of Mary. 

I had never stopped to consider what it must have been like to be the mother of Christ, to always be in His shadow observing His ministries, suffering, rejection, and death.  As a mother myself, it resonated with me in a mighty way.  I realized that God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary.  She knew when to stay out of the way and when to be close.  She loved Jesus with incredible longsuffering and tenderness, and yet never interfered with God’s business.  Even at the cross, her heart was so strong and she too drank from a bitter cup that most of us would have refused. 

I don’t write this to steal any glory from Jesus the Messiah, because He is the one who willingly died to deliver us from sin and opened the door to Heaven for every soul. But I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about His earthly mother and learn from her character.  She is a Biblical woman to celebrate. Because there’s just something about Mary.

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I’m in Tennessee now and it’s stinkbug season…I used to think I could be a naturalist, but one problem always prevented me: INSECTS.

I wrote an essay about this problem during graduate school.  We were discussing nature writing, and I decided I would try my hand at it.  My mentor loved this piece entitled “Insect Armageddon.”   I hope you enjoy.

Peace,  Olive Twist!!

~♥~

C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, believed that animals go to Heaven when they die, because Isaiah the prophet speaks of the Holy Mountain being inhabited by more animals than humans.  Someone once asked Lewis, “If animals go to Heaven, what will become of the mosquitoes?”  Lewis replied that “A heaven for mosquitoes could be combined with a hell for man.”

I can attest to the fact that such a place already exists, where men are tormented for their sins and insects have dominion: the state of Florida.  Many northerners have discovered this punishment at the time of their retirement, having thought they were moving south to tropical paradise and Jimmy Buffet songs.

I will not even embark upon issues such as the relentless heat and no seasons, the hurricanes and power outages that follow every storm, the wharf rats, the stinging jellyfish, the rabid raccoons, or the water moccasins that lurk in lakes, awaiting some brazen tourist who might decide to skinny-dip.  I will tell only of that which I despise the most: the bugs. I have always despised bugs and regard them with a mixture of contempt and dread.  Every autumn, I begin to pray for a winter harsh enough to send them all into early graves.

One summer my sons and I moved to Oregon, because most of our relatives live on the west coast and the weather is milder.  After about two months there, I asked my young sons what they missed the most about Florida.  My six-year-old quickly replied, “I miss the giant rhinoceros beetles that crawl around the parking lots, and those big locusts that are green and yellow and orange with zebra stripes on them.”  His big blue eyes were glowing with purity.

“You miss those?” I asked, trying not to look disgusted. “Not me.”  I mumbled a prayer that we would never go back, but we unfortunately did.

As we drove back into Florida, I opened the car window and could hear the cicadas chirping loudly in the trees.  They’ve been waiting for me, I thought with horror.  They are like giant flies that are naturally attracted to long hair, and nothing is worse than trying to shake one out while it rattles like madness in your ear, and you shriek and do a nerve dance until it falls out.

But the great demon of the south is the roach.  Some of them fly, such as the giant palmetto bug.  Once I lived in an old two-story house with a group of friends, and a man was cooking spaghetti and garlic bread in the kitchen. He had a neat stack of bread on a corner of the table and we noticed a huge roach on the ceiling several feet away.  Its antennae were shaking excitably, and it suddenly did a sky dive with no parachute and landed perfectly on top of that tall bread castle, where it seemed to be quite content with its plunder.  I did not eat that night.

Most roaches crawl with wriggling hungry antennae in garbage cans, on kitchen counters, and through windowsills and crevices.  In the middle of the night, when you go to the kitchen for a cookie and milk and you turn on the light, they flee like desperate soldiers behind the fortress of the stove.  When you open a cupboard in the daytime, one might rustle behind the sugar bag, or you might spy their eggs like tiny white bullets in the corner.

Once I was lying in my bed, and I heard a sound as soft as silk slippers on the venetian blinds over my head.  I leapt from my bed and cut on the light, and was amazed that I had even been able to hear it.  The roach, I mean.  My ears are ultra-sensitive to insects, especially roaches.  I wake up everyone in the house for such occasions, and won’t let anyone rest until the skirmish is finished and the culprit has met his demise.

The pest control man can’t stand me. I laugh with victorious delight whenever his Ghostbuster truck pulls into the driveway with its giant canisters of poison and ammunition. I call him any time I see one bug, and I make him spray the whole house again, since it is included in my service agreement.  Though most people have switched to annual pest service, I expect my house to be sprayed once per month inside and out.  I let him know when I think it’s time for more bait behind the kitchen drawers and under the sinks.  I know he gets sick of dealing with me.

I can’t leave out the termites and giant ants. I called the termite man to come and tell me about a tree that looked like it was dissolving to sawdust all by itself.  He looked at it and said, “I can’t do anything about that tree, because it is within three feet of your house, and we don’t do indoor service for you.”  So I called the pest control man, and he says, “I can’t touch that tree because it’s not part of the house.  So the bugs have all figured out where the no-kill zone is, and they continue to prosper there and raise their families. I once thought it would be funny to put up a “roach crossing” sign in front of our house.

Should I embark upon the subject of mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis?  Or have you ever awakened to find a tick burrowing in your flesh?  How about those wasps with great stingers and long legs that hover around the eaves looking for a victim?

Once I had a crazy dream that I was looking with curious disdain at a display of insects in some laboratory.  As I analyzed one big furry bug with wings pinned to a board resembling an insect Hellraiser, the bug suddenly squirmed and opened its eyes and started talking.  I jumped back in horror, as it told me about the injustice and misfortune of its life and how it ended up being nailed by some entomologist. It was like a horror movie scene and I woke up sweating and feverish.  I wondered if I was like Hannibal Lechter to the bug world.

As I sat shaking on the edge of my bed, I thought:  Perhaps I have misjudged these little creatures.  Perhaps they are only innocent civilians. Perhaps they are really cute and cuddly if you get to know them.

One tiny baby roach wriggled on my dresser.  I grabbed my hairbrush and smacked it into eternal bliss.  No, even my Quaker beliefs must be suspended for this war, this enmity.  I cannot love these hellions in paradise.

(See Isaiah Chapter 11 and The Problem of Pain, chapter 9)


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To read the entire “Divine Doorkeepers” essay as one continuous page, please click on this link:

https://olivetwist.wordpress.com/essays/divine-doorkeepers/

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Peace & Grace to You,

“Sister Olive”

~♥~

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