Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Letter to John Steinbeck

Today I took my very last final of the semester, and it was for my Eminent Authors class on John Steinbeck.  The final was super easy: write a letter to John Steinbeck.  As easy as that.  We gathered around a fake campfire in the middle of our classroom, ate lots of food and read aloud our letters to the author we've been studying all semester long.  It was a fun final "exam" and everybody loved my letter, including my professor who felt the need to shake my hand!  Ha ha... Anyway, I thought I'd post it here.  Enjoy.

Dear John Steinbeck,

Although you are dead, I imagine you on some shore somewhere near your beloved Salinas, sand between your toes, pencil in hand as you scribble ferociously on your yellow pad, ideas washing over you like ocean water.  Perhaps it’s night, and you’re writing by the light of a bonfire.  Charley’s head is in your lap and you pause from your writing to take a swig of beer and stare deeply into the fire’s orange wonder.  Your novels live on, John, and they light a fire in all of us.  The world changed as you pressed pencil to paper, leaving graphite lines that formed letters that formed words that formed stories that have called out for social equality, shed light on our own human folly, liberated us from our humdrum existence and let us know that there is nothing more remarkable than that “glittering instrument, the human soul.”

God, what I would give to have known you.  To meet you, just once.  To shake your hand and pick your brain and see the world as you see it out of those ever-searching deep blue eyes—eyes that captured America during the gritty horrors of the Dust Bowl, led a rebellion during World War II and pondered on all the confusing politics of Vietnam.  You, who lived in California and New York, Mexico and France, a man who was always seeking out some new frontier; some new experience; some newer, higher, better plane of thinking and being and loving and learning.  You, who counseled presidents and befriended marine biologists.  You, who knew the plight of the downtrodden as if their story was your own.  What would I ask you, John Steinbeck, if I could?

I’d ask you why on earth you gave a shit about those critics that couldn’t bear to admit that you had grasped onto something that they never even knew to reach for—why?  Why, John?  Weren’t you confident in your writing?  Weren’t you confident in your ability to carve a character out of nothing but typewriter ink and a sheet of blank paper?  To breathe life into them like a God and then watch as they struggle to make tough decisions?  Do you see it now, John?  Your success as a writer?  Is it finally made apparent?  Do you feel worthy of your accolades?  Your praise?  Your Nobel Prize?  Do you see us here, now, reading your books, taking college courses all about you, studying your life and your essays and your novels like hungry children shoving sweet cake down our greedy, yearning throats?

Cal is full of good and bad, as are most of your characters.  As are you.  And though there were bad reviews and negative criticisms, there were good reviews too and the good will always outlive the bad.  Good always does.  Your talisman saves us, John, like it saved Ethan Hawley.  Your milk nurtures us, like it did from Rose of Sharon.  The pearl is buried deep in the ocean, and though the baby is dead, we know that life goes on—the Song of the Family keeps singing, louder and louder until it crushes the scorpion.  Why?  Because of timshel.  Because there’s something inside all of us—that same noble stuff that the Joads had, and Lennie had, and the wise Chinaman Lee had—that will not surrender.  We keep moving on.  “Man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes,” but by God, he keeps on moving forward.  You are that man, John Steinbeck.  You were flawed—yes—but you are good.  And it’s that goodness in your characters that you will always be remembered for.  There’s darkness to humanity, that is true, but you show it to us so that we might fight it off.  You give us the dark, so that we might see the light.

You call us back to our roots, you help us see that we are not so different from our neighbor, you criticize a system that stomps on the little guy, you fear a world with no nature, and you present those ideals to the world to chew on and think over and embrace.  What was it like, John, to have such a great effect on America?  How did you change the world with just a pencil and pad of yellow paper?  I hope you can tell me someday.  I’ll be reading and I’ll be listening.

A Fan

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Phallic Fallacies: The Rhetoric Penetrating Proposition 8

Almost five years after California’s Proposition 8 was passed, you might be wondering why we gay people keep on beating a dead horse.  The truth of the matter is this:  We just enjoy beating off anything, horses and other animals included.  I’m joking of course, although some of the arguments surrounding same-sex marriage are so fallacious in nature that it’s almost hard to tell the difference between sarcasm and a legitimate position on the issue. The idea that same-sex marriage will suddenly lead to, say, legalized bestiality is an example of the slippery-slope fallacy Jay Heinrichs illustrates in his book Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.  It is my hope that this rhetorical analysis will shed light on such fallacies present in today’s debate over same-sex marriage and help you, the reader, understand the reasons why the gay community is fighting so hard against Proposition 8 and other measures that deny us the right to marry.

Before getting into the fallacies, however, I feel a quick overview of Proposition 8 is in order, because believe me, it’s far from old news.  In November 2008, in the state of California, a ballot measure was proposed and ultimately passed called Proposition 8 which amended their state constitution:  “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” (Text of Proposed Laws, 128).  Obviously widespread protests ensued, especially since California had been performing same-sex marriages for some time.  A couple years later, August 4, 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger claiming that it violated the Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.  Then another two years after that, February 7, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deemed Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional, affirming Judge Walker’s ruling.  As of Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments for and against Proposition 8.  That’s right, I said March of this year.  And a ruling is expected by the end of June.  You really can’t get more current than that.  So in favor of adding my voice to the arguments surrounding this controversial issue, I would first like to explain what a fallacy is and identify a few of them from Heinrichs’ text, illustrating each with popular arguments against same-sex marriage.  I will then take a look at the official briefs to the court, both for and against, being considered by the Supreme Court right at this moment, pointing out any logical fallacies and identifying the rhetoric techniques at play.  Finally, I will add my own two cents to the piggy bank of equality and explain why I personally am against Proposition 8... if anyone is still listening by that point.

Jay Heinrichs, in chapter fourteen of his book, says, “In rhetoric…there really are no rules.  You can commit fallacies to your heart’s content, as long as you get away with them” (138).  Frankly, I’m not okay with letting people get away with fallacious arguments, so let’s delve into what Heinrichs terms “The Seven Deadly Logical Sins” (137).  The first sin is called The False Comparison, and it occurs when the examples don’t hold up, either because they were grouped into the wrong categories or appealing to popularity or just a false analogy altogether.  For example, speaking on the importance of defending traditional marriage, Rick Santorum said in a radio interview:  “This is an issue just like 9-11… We didn’t decide we wanted to fight the war on terrorism because we wanted to. It was brought to us. And if not now, when?”  (Santorum).  You see how he tries to somehow lump terrorism and same-sex marriage into the same category?  It’s a false analogy that can strike fear in a lot of listeners, which is what Santorum wants.

The second sin is The Bad Example.  A bad example could include hasty generalizations, which are very common in any argument.  “Gay men are pedophiles” is a generalization because it “reaches vast conclusions with scanty data” (Heinrichs 144).  Rare instances of gay pedophiles do not validate the connection between the two.  Similarly lacking in evidence, the third sin, Ignorance as Proof, is when someone assumes that if you can’t prove it than it must not exist, or if you can’t disprove it, then it must exist.  Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia fell into this fallacy during the Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8, March 26 of this year:  “There’s considerable disagreement among—among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a—in a single sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not… There’s no scientific answer to that question at this point in time” (Scalia, Prop 8).  So because he believes no evidence exists showing gay parents are good, then they must be bad?  “The examples—or lack of them—don’t support the choice,” says Heinrichs (145).

The fourth sin, The Tautology, “…basically just repeats the premise” (Heinrichs 146).    As Heinrichs explains it, “The proof and the conclusion agree perfectly, and there lies the problem.  They agree because they’re the same thing” (146).  An example would be, “Homosexuality is wrong because it is a sin.”  If you notice, not a lot is being said here.  The fifth sin, The False Choice, is when two questions are lumped into one or a false dilemma is presented with only a couple of options when in reality there are many.  Senator Michelle Bachmann, for example, creates a false dilemma when she says: “It isn’t that some gay will get some rights. It’s that everyone else in our state will lose rights.  For instance, parents will lose the right to protect and direct the upbringing of their children” (Bachmann).  Let me get this straight (no pun intended), if gay people gain rights then straight people lose rights?  It is not a choice between one or the other!

The sixth sin, The Red Herring, is a pretty simple one to understand: it’s a distraction.  The distraction can either be something completely unimportant or it can even be a switch to an easier target—the straw man tactic.  A pretty out-there example of a red herring came from, once again, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2003 during the Lawrence v. Texas case dealing with a Texas law that criminalized homosexuality.  In response to a lawyer saying privacy—including the privacy to have sex with whomever one wanted to—was a fundamental right, Scalia responded, “Suppose all the states had laws against flagpole sitting at one time, you know, there was a time when it was a popular thing and probably annoyed a lot of communities, and then almost all of them repealed those laws.  Does that make flagpole sitting a fundamental right?” (Scalia, Lawrence v. Texas).  Um… nobody’s talking about flagpoles, sir.  Stop trying to distract us with nostalgic methods of protest!

Our seventh and final sin, The Wrong Ending, is the one I see most often in arguments against same-sex marriage.  As Heinrichs explains it, “…if we do this reasonable thing, it’ll lead to something horrible” (151).  He calls this sin the “slippery slope” (Heinrichs 151) and one of its variations is the argument that gay marriage will inevitably lead to inter-species marriage or polygamous marriage or marriage of a man to his favorite pair of sneakers.  I do love me some new shoes, but not enough to book a church.  In the May 11, 2009 episode of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, host Bill O’Reilly got into an argument over same-sex marriage with analyst Margaret Hoover:
HOOVER:  I don't buy into the slippery slope argument at all.
O'REILLY: You'd let everybody do whatever they want?
HOOVER: That's the slippery slope argument. That's if you allow one thing to happen,
then another thing, and another thing.
O'REILLY: Hoover, you would let everybody get married who want to get married.
You want to marry a turtle, you can (O’Reilly).
Yep, Bill O’Reilly thinks gay marriage will lead to man/turtle marriage.  I mean, really?  A turtle?  Or how about this quote from Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary:  “If marriage is radically redefined as a way of just affirming loving feelings of attraction, then equality will require allowing people who love dogs to marry dogs.  And people who love ice cream to marry ice cream” (Heimbach).  So as you can see, my opening horse joke is really not that far off.

Now that Heinrichs has explained some common fallacies and I’ve put them into context for you, I would like to talk about the current Proposition 8 hearing at the Supreme Court.  I have had the opportunity of inspecting two briefs made to the Supreme Court, and I don’t mean polka-dotted men’s briefs from American Eagle.  No, no, these amici curiae briefs were much more political and a lot less fun.  The first brief was written by the Obama Administration arguing against Proposition 8; the second brief was written by a group of churches—including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and argues in defense of Proposition 8.  I would like to put the two official statements into a conversation, if you’ll permit me, so that we can see just how these arguments are playing out in the courtroom.

In the Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents, written by the Obama Administration, it states the following:  “The United States will address the following question presented by this case: whether Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” (I).  The brief then proceeds to outline their argument that Proposition 8 does indeed violate the fourteenth amendment by marginalizing same-sex couples.  The document references an earlier merits brief, No. 12-307, that identifies classifications based on sexual identity as cause for scrutiny, then gives four reasons why heightened scrutiny should be given: 
…(1) gay and lesbian people have suffered a significant history of discrimination in this country; (2) sexual orientation generally bears no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society; (3) discrimination against gay and lesbian people is based on an immutable or distinguishing characteristic that defines them as a group; and (4) notwithstanding certain progress, gay and lesbian people—as Proposition 8 itself under-scores—are a minority group with limited power to protect themselves from adverse outcomes in the political process (Brief Supporting Respondents, 6-7).
It is quite apparent that the majority should in no way make decisions that affect the minority, and gay and lesbian citizens are put at an unfair disadvantage with Proposition 8.

The opposing side, the side whole-heartedly endorsing Proposition 8, argues back that this has nothing to do with any homophobia or discrimination towards homosexual Americans.  In their brief, The Brief Amici Curiae National Association of Evangelicals, Etc. in Support of Petitioners, the group of religious organizations says the following: 
And whatever the failings (past or present) of individuals within our faith communities, we are united in condemning hatred and mistreatment of homosexuals. We believe God calls us to love gays and lesbians, even as we steadfastly defend our belief and judgment that traditional marriage is best for families and society (18).
They also insist that “only a demeaning view of religion and religious believers could dismiss our advocacy of Proposition 8 as ignorance, prejudice, or animus” (Brief in Support of Petitioners, 2).

What, then, says that Proposition 8 is “best for families and society”?  Is this not showing a prejudice towards certain kinds of families?  Are gay couples incapable of raising children?  The religious right likes to remind gay people that we cannot produce children biologically in same-sex relationships, but the anti-Proposition 8 argument asserts that regardless of the physical limitations, families can indeed thrive under same-sex parents: 
The overwhelming expert consensus is that children raised by gay and lesbian parents are as likely to be well adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents. In any event, notwithstanding Proposition 8, California law continues to grant same-sex domestic partners the full extent of parental rights accorded to married couples. In that context, the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage bears no substantial relation to any interest in promoting responsible procreation and child-rearing (Brief Supporting Respondents, 8). 
If gay couples can still adopt and raise children, then Proposition 8 really isn’t protecting the families in the way that it claims it is.  What’s really at stake here isn’t the children, but the word marriage:  “Proposition 8, by depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry, denies them the ‘dignity, respect, and stature’ accorded similarly situated opposite-sex couples under state law…” (Brief Supporting Respondents, 11-12).  In other words, while a civil union might legally function as a marriage, the fact that it’s not a marriage creates a social stigma.  Kind of like the difference between a black drinking fountain and a white drinking fountain—while both quench the drinker’s thirst, we’ve come to find out that “separate but equal” isn’t necessarily true justice.  We, as homosexuals, would like a chance to drink from the same fountain as our heterosexual counterparts.

Those defending Proposition 8, in their court brief, say that marriage is about family and not about “affirming intimate adult relationships” (Brief in Support of Petitioners, 10).  Furthermore, they try to disparage the desire for a recognized relationship in two ways.  One, they try to make the desire seem selfish and petty, and two, they insinuate that same-sex relationships are nothing more than a gimmick:
These competing visions [of marriage] overlap in some respects but are nevertheless in deep tension. One is inherently intergenerational; the other, primarily interpersonal. One is focused on children’s and society’s needs; the other, on the desires of the couple. The question before this Court is whether the Constitution imposes on the Nation a novel conception of marriage over the one that has endured in all societies for nearly all of human history (Brief in Support of Petitioners, 11).
What’s worse is that this statement falls under Heinrichs’ fifth deadly sin, The False Choice, because it labors under the idea that marriage is either one of two things—intergenerational or interpersonal—and never both.  While no one’s denying that heterosexual marriages lead to offspring, this argument forgets that homosexual couples might also adopt and form families that will in turn prove to be intergenerational.  And when a heterosexual couple decides to commit their lives to one another, before children are in the picture, is their union not on some level interpersonal?  And furthermore, the choice isn’t between traditional marriage or nontraditional marriage—as if it’s one or the other and same-sex marriage will somehow take over and eliminate heterosexual unions—but rather it’s a choice between keeping the current limitations or expanding the benefits of marriage to all.

Now, the final decision of the Supreme Court will not happen for another few months.  So while we’re awaiting the verdict, let me appeal to your pathos for a second.  Pretty please?  It’s a rhetorical device I am unabashedly taking advantage of.  You see, ever since I was a kid I was taught that when two people loved each other they got married.  Sure, the "two people" were probably explained to me as "a man and a woman," but that didn't stop me from making the blonde Ken doll and the brunette Ken doll ditch Barbie and go marry each other.  So when I grew up years later and realized I was gay, that notion of marrying the one I love didn't go away.  And when Brian, my partner of almost five years, asked me to marry him I said yes.  Actually, it was more of a squealing YES!  It just seemed to be the natural progression of things.  You meet, you fall in love, and you get married.

And although same-sex marriage is legal in the state of New York, where Brian and I tied the knot November 9, 2012, our marriage license doesn't mean anything in the state of Utah where we currently reside.  And while we do not live in California, where the Proposition 8 battle is taking place, the outcome of this case will affect us and the nation one way or another.  The ruling could entail a nationwide precedent that bars states from discriminating against same-sex couples if deemed unconstitutional. Or perhaps it will only affect California.  But even so, a victory in one state could be the start of a ripple of change in other states as well.  I hope for the day my marriage will be as valid as anyone else’s, because my marriage means more than anything to me.  It means a lifelong commitment.  It means the start of a family.  It means all of the things that marriage means to straight couples.  Nobody goes into marriage saying, "I'm only doing this for tax purposes and hospital visitation rights."  No, they do it for love.  And while those are the sorts of benefits that go unrecognized here in Utah, Brian and I still know in our hearts that we are married.  And you know what?  Being married is freaking awesome.

So even though Proposition 8 might seem old news to some, to those who it directly affects, such as me and my loving husband, the issue is far from over and done with.  Democracy is an exciting thing, one where we can all voice our opinions; rhetoric gives us that voice.  The way gay advocates phrase an argument—equality, civil rights, discrimination—is different than the way Proposition 8 supporters will say it—tradition, values, abomination.  And while an argument might seem valid and appeal to our pathos or even our ethos, sometimes we don’t notice that the argument is flawed.  The logos can be thwarted by a fallacy and while both sides are guilty of this, I believe the arguments against same-sex marriage equality are both more flawed and more damaging.  So no, we gays will not stop beating this horse.  We will not give up until we can stand as equals (although more fabulously dressed) alongside our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

Works Cited
Bachmann, Michelle.  “Prophetic Views Behind the News” hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM. 6 Mar 2004. Radio.
Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondents. No. 12-144.  Department of Justice.  Washington, DC.  Feb 2013.  Print. 
Brief of Amici Curiae National Association of Evangelicals; The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; The Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries in Support of Petitioners. No. 12-144.  Salt Lake City, UT.  29 Jan 2013.  Print.
Heimbach, Daniel. Marriage Amendment Protection Forum.  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC.  28 Mar 2012.  Speaker.
Heinrichs, Jay.  Thank You For Arguing.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.  Print.
O’Reilly, Bill.  The O’Reilly Factor.  Fox News Network.  New York City.  11 May 2009.  Television.
Scalia, Antonin.  Supreme Court Hearing on Proposition 8.  Washington DC.  26 Mar 2013.  Speaker.
Scalia, Antonin.  Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558.  Washington DC.  2003.  Judge.
Text of Proposed Laws: Official Voter Information Guide.  “Proposition 8.”  Sec. 7.5, Pg. 128.  Draft copy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Night Light

He looked down at the soft head on the pillow and noticed her shut eyes like half moons of lashes, her sweet sticky mouth just barely parted to let in and out her gentle breathing, the stuffed rabbit doll she loved so dearly tucked tight in her little arms.  Her father smiled and kissed her on the head, smelling Johnson’s Baby Shampoo as he did so.  He put the book of nursery rhymes on her nightstand before slowly moving off her princess bed with Cinderella sheets.  She stirred a little but didn’t open her eyes.

As he turned out her light in the doorway, and the brilliant glow from the star-shaped night light looked all the more wondrous, a sleepy voice spoke out from the starry semi-darkness.

“Daddy… why did Jack fall?”

He hadn’t thought she was still awake for the reading of “Jack and Jill” in that big book of nursery rhymes.  He thought he had lost her somewhere between “Little Miss Muffet” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”  But before he attempted an answer she had turned drowsily away from him and the poor rabbit, who had slipped out of her arm in this maneuver, balanced precariously at the bed’s edge.  The little girl was indeed asleep.

Her father tiptoed quietly down the hall to his own bedroom.  The rectangle of hallway light washed over the figure of his sleeping wife as he entered.  She was at the edge of the bed, on her side with her back towards him.  He shut the door and stumbled his way through the dark to the master bathroom, wincing his eyes as he was accosted with the bright glow of the harsh lighting.

He reached for his toothbrush and imagined what sort of answer he might have given Annie had she not fallen asleep in her princess bed.
* * *

As he turned out her light, brilliant stars glowed from her night light.  He heard her sleepy voice speak out from the semi-darkness.

“Daddy… why did Jack fall?”

Millions of rosy-hued stars danced upon her bright-eyed face and on the walls and ceiling as she sat up in bed, eager for her father’s answer.  In two grown-up strides he was kneeling beside her.  He took her little hands in his and said, “Sweetie, the story doesn’t say exactly.  Why do you think he fell?”

“I dunno…” she whispered.

“Think about it.  What makes people fall sometimes?”

She scrunched up her eyes real tight as she concentrated for a moment.  Then her eyes were flung open with excitement and her happy voice said, “Maybe he tripped on his shoelaces!”  She laughed and kept repeating “shoelaces.”

“There you go, that’s a good answer.  That’s why you fell, isn’t it?”  Peeking out from under a blanket was her little foot, encased in a neon pink cast up to her knee.  All the kids in her preschool classroom had signed it.  “Now go to sleep, princess.”

He moved toward the doorway, but a sleepy voice spoke out once more from the starry semi-darkness.

“Did Jill trip on her shoelaces too?”

“Yes, sweetie, they both did.  Such silly clutzes!  Goodnight.”

* * *

He spit out the toothpaste into the sink and dried his dripping mouth and chin with the hanging handtowel.  He stared at himself in the mirror for a moment, with a look of disappointment.  When did he become this man in his late thirties?  This tired, lonely, spineless man?  A man who’s afraid of his own wife?  He shifted his gaze away from his own reflection and looked at the mirrored image of his wife in the distant bed.  That’s how she always looked.  Distant.  Out of reach.  Not even Annie had access to her.  His wife was just sleeping through life.

* * *

As he turned out the light, he looked back and admired the rosy glow of the night light, casting dancing stars across the form of his sleeping babe.  But she was not yet asleep.  Her tiny voice mumbled a question from the semi-darkness.

“Daddy… why did Jack fall?”

In just two grown-up steps he had made the length of her room and was by her side, gently caressing her sweet face.  “I didn’t think you heard that one.  You had fallen asleep somewhere after ‘Little Miss Muffet’ I thought…”

She wrinkled up her face.  “Is that the one with the spiders?  I hate spiders.”

He laughed.  “Yes, it’s the one with the spiders!”  He tickled her all over as if his fingers were ten little spiders crawling on her pajama-clad body.  The girl giggled.  “Daddy, stop!”

“Mommy doesn’t like spiders either,” he told his daughter.

Annie stopped laughing.  “Mommy doesn’t like me either.”

His face darkened with concern.  He took her little hands into his and looked her in the eyes.  “Why do you say that?”

She shrugged and wriggled away from him, reaching out to touch the night light in the outlet near her bed.

“Honey,” he repeated.  “Why do you say mommy doesn’t like you?”

She turned quickly to face him again and said, “I think he was pushed!”

It took him a while to follow her train of thought.  He had almost forgotten her original question, being troubled with other things now.  His daughter thought her mother hated her.

“You think somebody pushed Jack?  Why would somebody do that?”

“I dunno…”  She turned her attention back to the night light, kicking off her blankets as she did so.  He looked down at her leg in its pink, autographed cast.  Stars fluttered over it like butterflies.  Her teacher had jokingly called her a clutz in blue marker, right next to what could only be a child’s drawing of a dinosaur.  Or a giraffe.

The stuffed rabbit fell to the floor.

“Annie, honey,” the father said quietly.  “Was it Jill?  Did Jill push Jack?”

* * *

He looked at that stranger lying in his bed.  Her silk slip clung to her thin shoulders with summer sweat.  It clung to her more tightly than she had ever clung to him.  Even in that bed.  Had she always been so aloof?  He tried to remember how things were in the beginning.  Before the depression came.  Before the twinkling stars faded from her eyes.  Before he had to explain to his little girl that mommy had to go away for a while, to get better.  Sometimes he wished she were still gone.  Slipping silently into his side of the bed, plenty of mattress space between them, it often felt that she was still gone.

Tentatively he reached a quivering hand out.  His wedding ring glinted in the moonlight.  He touched her hair, softly at first, and then her shoulder, her arm, the small of her back.  His breathing quickened and he tried to quiet it.  He was so nervous he’d wake her.  Every rustle of the bed sheets seemed magnified, threatening to crush them with sound.  Sound to break the silence.  But she lay there cold as ever, completely unmoved by his efforts to connect.

He slowly returned his arm to rest on his stomach and closed his tired eyes.

* * *

The light went out, allowing the starry nightlight to dazzle the young girl into Dreamland, but her innocent voice called out to her father from the semi-darkness.

“Daddy… why did Jack fall?”

“I don’t know, princess.  Daddy wasn’t there when it happened.”

He stepped across the room in just two paces and pulled a chair to her bedside.  He sat down and looked with pitying eyes at the young girl facing him, sitting in bed with her broken leg propped up on a pillow.

“Can you tell me the story?” he asked.

“Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water,” she said.

“So Jack wasn’t alone when he fell?”

She paused for a moment, thinking.  “No.  He went up with Jill.”

“Why did they go up the hill?”

“Jack was thirsty.  He wanted a glass of water, so he could go to sleep.”

The father glanced briefly at the cup of water on the nightstand, next to the book of nursery rhymes and the Hello Kitty alarm clock.  He had brought it to her when he tucked her in.

“Okay,” he said.  “Then what happened?”

“I don’t remember.”

A droplet of condensation slid down the side of her cup.  It was going to leave a ring in the wood.

“Why did Jack fall?”

“Jill pushed him,” she said quietly.

He picked up the glass, wiped the watery ring away with his hand, and set the glass down on the carpeted floor.

“Daddy!  I can’t reach it down there!”

“Here then,” he said, handing her the cup.  “Drink the rest now.”

She held the cup in her hands but didn’t drink.

“Honey, are you sure Jill pushed Jack?  Why would she do that?”

“Jill doesn’t like Jack.  Not anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because.  Because Jack makes too much noise when Jill is trying to nap.  Or Jack doesn’t always want to take a bath when Jill wants him too.  Sometimes Jack wants to eat cookies and not broccoli.  Jill hates Jack.”

Her father nodded.  He put his face in his hands as he cried.  He didn’t want Annie to see.  Annie wasn’t watching him anyway; she was drinking her water.  After her last sip she put the cup back on the nightstand and whispered, “Daddy.”

He didn’t say anything, but his shoulders continued to shake and he kept his hands over his face.

“Daddy.  Mommy doesn’t bring me water.  Even when I ask for it.  She just tells me to go to bed.  And I knew I was supposed to be in bed, but I was thirsty, daddy.  I was just going to the hall bathroom to fill my cup with water in the sink.  Mommy was in there.”

He rubbed his eyes and then took her little hands into his.  “What did mommy do?” he asked, trying to keep out the hurt that was rising inside him.

“She was doing something to her arm.  She got mad at me.  I climbed onto my stool… to reach the sink… and…um…”


Her eyes looked away, towards the gentle glow of her starry night light, as if momentarily entranced by its magic.  He looked at it too.  Watched as it transformed her pink room into something beautiful.  Something wondrous to behold.  Something far greater than what either of them had.  But it was only an illusion.  A trick of man.  Nothing more than electricity and colored plastic.

“I just fell,” she said at last.

He held her close in his arms, smelling the sweet scent of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, and kissed her on the forehead.

“Daddy’s here.  We’ll never fall again.”

* * *

His wife did not wake up when he did.  It wasn’t until the morning light illuminated the room that he noticed the needles on the nightstand and the marks in her arm.  When he shook her violently he realized she was dead.  The coroner declared it an overdose.  Funeral arrangements were made.  The tears didn’t come right away, but there was darkness over him.  Like a storm cloud.

The little girl’s pink cast made a stark contrast against the black sea of mourners.  Her grieving father held her hand tightly, never wanting to let go.  There was a light, misty drizzle that morning and he watched the condensation dripping slowly down the side of the casket as the minister spoke.  As the funeral procession carried her body down the hill, the sun broke through the clouds and kissed them all with a rosy hue.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I'm Just Insane Enough to Try This Again...

Once upon a time I attempted the 60-day total-body conditioning program known as Insanity.  I watched the DVDs and followed along as best as I could.  Host Shaun T led me and my television friends into a series of jumps and kicks and squats and other pain-inducing exercises meant to shed pounds and sculpt us all into the toned, muscled hotness that is himself.  That was the idea at least.  I did pretty well for the first couple of days, until I skipped a day here, then another there, and we all know how that pattern spirals into a complete disaster.  I think in the end I did about 21 days of it, but not consecutively.  In other words, I didn't really do it.

And do you know what?  I'm just insane enough to try this again...

So this morning, being a Monday, I popped in the Fit Test DVD and started the first day of the first week of an 8-week program (9 if you count the recovery week between months 1 and 2).  That means I've got to do this 6-days a week until June 22nd to earn my free Insanity t-shirt and hopefully look and feel like a sexy stud muffin.

As you can see by my face, I'm terrified.

To help track my progress, I'm supposed to complete the fit test every couple weeks or so.  Here are today's numbers... which are pathetic.  We had to count the number of reps we could do in a minute.

Switch Kicks: 61
Power Jacks: 46
Power Knees: 78
Power Jumps: 28
Globe Jumps: 10
Suicide Jumps: 13
Push-Up Jacks: 17
Low Plank Obliques: 38

Everybody, wish me luck!  I'm already sore all over...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Evaluation of My Own Poetry for English 3440

As I look at the collection of poems included in my chapbook, it is obvious to me the changes I’ve undergone as a poet.  That’s right, I said poet.  That in and of itself is a huge change.  But as far as my poetry goes, I feel there’s a definite difference between the poems I wrote last year and the poems I’ve written this year in this class.  While I’m still proud of my earlier work, I think the poems I’m writing now have more subtlety, more attention to language and feel a bit more… I don’t know… sophisticated.  I’m still no poet laureate by any stretch of the imagination, but I am growing and improving and coming into my own.

In one of my earlier poems, “Butterfly,” my writing is for the most part literal:  “His sneakers echo in the empty mall./ Only the theater is open now./ Part of him chickens out.  He thinks to call/ it off, but at this point is not sure how.”  It’s like I’m telling a story—very narrative-driven—and it’s only in the final couplet where a metaphor emerges:  “That first date led to another and soon/ the butterfly emerged from the cocoon.”  And it’s a clich├ęd metaphor at that.

In a newer poem, “Nothing,” I again explore a gay relationship, but this time it’s less cutesy and less narrative-driven.  I make use of more striking visual metaphors: “You stand, showering./ Naked. A scarecrow/ with no crows to scare,/ no crops to protect.”  Phrases like “your raw skin bleeds… I keep on scrubbing” are less literal and more metaphorical, and I think, more effective.  Comparing “Nothing” to “Butterfly” is like night and day.  Other poems I’m most proud of now included “Wishes” (“girls resembling flamingos/ with long, stiletto legs/ and bright, warm coats above”) and “Helpmeet” (“But then you smiled with/ fruit juice dripping/ from the corner of your/ apple lips, your mouth a/ yawning hollow”)—poems that have definitely benefitted from my professor's stewardship, the workshops with my peers, and my own deepening understanding of poetry.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Villanelle for English 3440

Two/Three Matches

The grass is greener where you water it,
yet bone-dry grass cannot be healthy now.
A burnt out match cannot again be lit.

You are already gone, you piece of shit;
I’m left alone to ponder on our vow.
The grass is greener where you water it.

I told myself a lie and let it sit
upon your lips.  I often marvel how
a burnt out match cannot again be lit.

Another comes along who seems to fit
the space you once took up in me somehow.
The grass is greener where you water it.

Both you and he have left me feeling hit
with bams! and bangs! and one tremendous pow!
A burnt out match cannot again be lit.

I want the flame to burn inside the pit,
but fear that you’ve forgotten how to wow.
The grass is greener where you water it.
A burnt out match cannot again be lit.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Anti-Love Poem for English 3440


You stand, showering.
Naked.  A scarecrow
with no crows to scare,
no crops to protect.

You wash your hair
and tighten tired eyes against
the steady barrage of
shampoo threatening to blind you,
if only for a stinging second,
and you consider letting it.

As I wash you vigorously,
sponge in hand,
your raw skin bleeds.
You do not notice so
I keep on scrubbing,
too scared to stop.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three-Item Poem for English 3440

For this assignment I had to write a poem using three things: red, hippopotamus and whiteout.


She had painted the room.
Like her cheeks would flush
in the cold, or like the
color of her favorite scarf.
Her lipstick still stained
on his coffee mug.

The mug washed clean,
the scarf returned,
her cheeks no longer his.
But the walls—
the walls remained,
as blatant as a
rising from the mud
under an African sun.
Clay dripping
from its mighty legs
like drops of
nail polish on the sheets
of a once-shared bed.

She had painted the room.
White paint could not conceal it
or erase it like liquid paper,
correcting all the times
she wrote “I love you”
and didn't mean it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Language Poem for English 3440


Touch-tipped fingers fall
touchily on thighs, pleasure-
points, elbow-joints.  Smooth
raking.  Hungry
thirst.  Peel a strip.
Then another bite of
banana.  Taste of flesh.
White and unrelenting.
Yielding away like falling
dominoes, black dots on white
faces, clicking and clacking
and then—yes.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Persona Poem for English 3440


I only winced a little
when God ripped you
from my side, bloody
and swift, leaving a
yawning hollow.
I watched as you explored
your new body;
a butterfly spreading
her wings and I the
abandoned cocoon.

But then you smiled with
fruit juice dripping
from the corner of your
apple lips, your mouth a
yawning hollow
where I could see our bleak
future.  I cried and, in my
fallen state, tore off
your wings and crippled
the both of us.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Found Poem for English 3440

3.5 Billion Years
(from a Zales catalog promoting the Celebration Diamond)

Nature creates beauty.
Beauty explodes with pride.

Pride took so long in making
man—half the original brilliance
of nature—and beauty is lost.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Poem in the Negative for English 3440


It's not in the vast expanse
or darkness kissing the white
luminescence of winter snow
nor in the smoky puff
of laughter; not the
lungs filled with cold or
girls resembling flamingos
with long stilettoed legs
and bright, warm coats above,
disappearing into pubs.

It's not in the rings left
by martini glasses and beer
bottles nor in the lonely
olive thoughtlessly swept
away by a waitress's
gin-soaked hand, the same
hand that sweetly wipes
away an eyelash from
her child's sleeping cheek
—a wish waiting to be granted.

She watches it float down,
lost in cream carpet,
and somehow she knows.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sydney's Journalism Piece on Same-Sex Marriage Featuring Us!

Quick recap, our friend Sydney asked us if we'd like to be a part of a journalism project for school and we agreed.  She came over Sunday night to interview us and it was pretty neat.  Yesterday she messaged us the link to her final project and I've gotten permission to post it here on my blog.  It's a short piece (1:21) about Utah's shifting views on same-sex marriage and we're in it at the end.  She said she originally turned in a slightly longer version that contained more of our interview, but her professor's TA kept insisting she edit the piece down.  She's not entirely happy with the cut-down version, but Brian and I still thought it was pretty dang cool.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring Awakening

Jaron Barney embraces Jackie Jensen and Dylan MacDonald while Bob Nelson and Sarah Shippobotham look on.

Tonight Brian and I went to see a production of Spring Awakening at the University of Utah's Babcock Theater.  If you've never heard of it, shame on you because it's brilliant!  It's my favorite musical.  I sing the songs in the shower probably every day.  Don't judge.  If you knew the music, then you would know why I obsess.  It's incredibly lyrical and haunting and just plain fantastic.

Based on a banned novel written in 1891, Spring Awakening is about sexual awakening amongst young people in a provincial German town.  The book was banned because of its depictions of teenage sexuality, masturbation, rape, sexual abuse, homosexuality... you name it.  Anyway, the show is tragic and yet reaffirming all at the same time.  I just love it.

My favorite songs are "Touch Me" and "Don't Do Sadness," but really they are all amazing.  Brian cries every time he hears "The Song of Purple Summer." Tonight was no exception to that rule.  The cast did the show justice, especially leads Jaron Barney, Jackie Jensen and Dylan MacDonald.  For those who live in the area, I suggest going!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Tonight was the night!  Popomology, the launch party of the university's literary criticism journal Essais, was tonight at 7:00 in one of campus' conference rooms.  As one of the published authors, I was invited to give a presentation on my paper.  Apparently not all of the authors published were asked to speak, so I suppose I should feel pretty honored for having been asked.  As I was preparing my slideshow last night and writing index cards this afternoon, it didn't feel so much like an honor.  It felt like stress.  And as I sat there eating the catered dinner, waiting for my turn to get up and speak, it felt like anxiety.  But as luck would have it, my body didn't tremor and my voice didn't quake when it came time to speak.  I was the second presenter of the second panel, and I did pretty darn well.  Afterwards, I felt completely relieved.  And when it came time for the Q&A portion, my good luck continued and I answered questions in a fairly intelligent manner!

So, now that it's all over and I have a certificate to prove it, I feel honored.  Honored and grateful for having been published alongside some fantastic and compelling essays.  My essay, "The Theatricality of Truth in Kafka's The Trial," was one of four published essays on the same novel.  We were all in the same English 3090 class.  My paper focuses on allusions to theater that I found in the novel and how those instances argue for a post-structuralist reading of the text, asserting that truth is elusive and our presumed reality is a pretense.  Maybe someday I'll post it up here... but I might not be able to now that it's published.  Hmm.

Anyway, the night was a success and I'm happy I participated.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

John Steinbeck Quotes

As my John Steinbeck class ends, my teacher has asked us to compile a few of our favorite quotes from each of the novels we've read.  I've decided to post them here to perhaps inspire those of you who've never read him to do so!

Tortilla Flat

“‘Thou knowest not what bitches women are,’ Danny said wisely.”—pg. 17

“‘Happiness is better than riches,’ said Pilon.”—pg. 77

“She was a lady, and her conduct was governed by very strict rules of propriety.  If Danny should walk by, now, if they should talk, like the old friends they were, if he should come in for a social glass of wine; and then, if nature proved too strong, and her feminine resistance too weak, there was no grave breach of propriety.  But it was unthinkable to leave her web on the front gate.”—pg.83

“‘I like it,’ said Pablo.  ‘I like it because it hasn’t any meaning you can see, and still it does seem to mean something, I can’t tell what.”—pg.140.

“A little love is like a little wine.  Too much of either will make a man sick.”—pg. 143

Of Mice and Men

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”—pg. 32

“‘He’s a nice fella,’ said Slim.  ‘Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella.  Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around.  Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.’”—pg. 38

“Lennie said softly, ‘We could live offa the fatta the lan’.’”—pg. 54

“‘You… an’ me.  Ever’body gonna be nice to you.  Ain’t gonna be no more trouble.  Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.’
Lennie said, ‘I thought you was mad at me, George.’
‘No,’ said George. “No, Lennie.  I ain’t mad.  I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now.  That’s a thing I want ya to know.’”—pg. 101

The Grapes of Wrath

“The hell with it!  There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue.  There’s just stuff people do.  It’s all part of the same thing.  And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.”—pg. 23

“This here ol’ man just’ lived a life an’ jus’ died out of it.  I don’ know whether he was good or bad, but that don’t matter much.  He was alive, an’ that’s what matters. […] An’ I wouldn’ pray for a ol’ fella that’s dead.  He’s awright.  He got a job to do, but it’s all laid out for ‘im an’ there’s on’y one way to do it.  But us, we got a job to do, an’ they’s a thousan’ ways, an’ we don’ know which way to turn.”—pg. 144

“This you may say of man—when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes.  Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back.  This you may say and know it and know it.”—pg. 150

“‘Easy,’ she said.  ‘You got to have patience.  Why, Tom—us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone.  Why, Tom, we’re the people that live.  They ain’t gonna wipe us out.  Why, we’re the people—we go on.’”—pg. 280

“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”—pg. 349

East of Eden

“Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong.  But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back.  Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free?  Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water?  It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.”—pg. 132

“The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.  I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection.  And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind.”—pg. 268

“This is not theology.  I have no bent toward gods.  But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul.  It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe.  It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’”—pg. 302

“It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth.”—pg. 307

“In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved.  Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. […] And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal.  Vice has always a fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”—pgs. 412-413

The Pearl

“And this was part of the family song too.  Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole.”—pg. 5

“Every man suddenly became related to Kino’s pearl, and Kino’s pearl went into the dreams, the speculations, the schemes, the plans, the futures, the wishes, the needs, the lusts, the hungers, of everyone, and only one person stood in the way and that was Kino, so that he became curiously every man’s enemy.”—pg. 23

“A plan is a real thing, and things projected are experienced.  A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities—never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.”—pg. 28

“Sometimes the quality of woman, the reason, the caution, the sense of preservation, could cut through Kino’s manness and save them all.”—pg. 59

“The people say that the two seemed to be removed from human experience; that they had gone through pain and had come out on the other side; that there was almost a magical protection about them.”—pg. 85

The Winter of Our Discontent

“Can a man think out his life, or must he just tag along?”—pg. 36

“And I remember thinking what a hell of a man a man could become.”—pg. 65

“I think I believe that a man is changing all the time.  But there are certain moments when the change becomes noticeable.”—pg. 87

“Has sin gone on strike for a wage raise?”—pg. 275

“It isn’t true that there’s a community of light, a bonfire of the world.  Everyone carries his own, his lonely own.  […] My light is out.  There’s nothing blacker than a wick.”—pg. 279

Travels with Charley

“For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten to much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness.  I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.  I did not want to surrender fierencess…”—pg. 13

“For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”—pg. 25

“Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland.”—pg. 117

“I wonder why progress looks so much like destruction.”—pg. 132

“Officer, I’ve driven this thing all over the country—mountains, plains, desserts.  And now I’m back in my own town, where I live—and I’m lost.”—pg. 202


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