30 in 3 Book Challenge Update: Anna Karenina

Update on the book challenge!

I finished Anna Karenina! My 771-page book has been mastered! Took a few months due to fluctuating interest, but закончено. I’ll be honest: When it comes to Anna’s portion of the story, I should have stuck to the Kiera Knightley movie. But that would be terrible. Though I have never seen the movie, I don’t think the movie could encapsulate the other literary aspects Tolstoy so carefully placed in his mega novel. AK is beyond a mushy story about an affair between a beautiful aristocrat and a Russian count. There’s gender roles, philosophy, questions of religion and mental states.

The romance between Anna and Vronsky is exciting at first, but as you keep reading (and reading…and reading…and reading…), you start to think if Anna’s choice to escape with Vronsky to the realm of love and passion was a good idea. You question her credibility and her entitlement. Then, you think “Jesus! I’m just like the Russians in the book!” when you realize you are scrutinizing the woman and not the man. In the beginning of the book, Oblonsky’s, Anna’s brother, affair comes out. No one really does anything though. They don’t exile him. They don’t genuinely scrutinize him because he is the man, the master of the home, the breadwinner. They pity Dolly, Oblonsky’s wife, but it’s only surface deep. And this was set in the mid-1800s! When I think of today’s world with female empowerment and equal rights for all, it’s sort of the same yet sort of different. Women can easily be breadwinners and masters of the home. The shame though when a woman partakes in “inappropriate matters”, like an affair, well from what I have seen and even judged, is gray area. You hear a woman cheats on her husband or partner and others instantly go “what a slut!”. In this time and age though, you also scrutinize the man. I mean, it takes two to tango. Way to go Tolstoy, you got me thinking of gender roles.

My favorite storyline from AK is Levin’s, the co-protagonist. He’s kinda the odd ball out in Society because of he’s not a rebel like Nikolai, his brother, or a bookworm like Sergei, his brother who’s the shining light of Society’s intellectual clique. He’s nowhere near a socialite and hundreds of miles away from bureaucrat city. He doesn’t fit in any category of traditional high society, hence the appeal. He also poses many questions when it comes to Russia’s future. During this time in Russian history, Russia hasn’t full gone Western. Throughout the book, many folks in Society switch from Russian to French to English. Levin refuses to see his homeland go Western, but knows his homeland needs to use Western technology to stay relevant. There is also Levin and Kitty’s love story that is adorable: lost love followed by suffering but triumphed in the end. I am happy that there was at least one happy ending in AK. Literary nerds say Levin is a self-portrait of Tolstoy, citing examples as Kitty and Levin’s wedding and Levin’s acceptance of faith. I can’t necessarily agree nor disagree since I have don’t have much knowledge on Tolstoy, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been known to do that from time to time in my own stories.

Spoiler alert: The mental stability was great towards the end of the book. Anna and Levin’s reactions to their situation greatly juxtapose each other. Anna’s choice to be fully involved with Vronsky sends her down a spiral of living nightmares, delusions and mental anguish, leading to her downfall, both metaphorically and literally. Levin, on the other hand, experiences great inner anxiety about his position in life after his baby is born. He even contemplates suicide more than a few times. But, unlike Anna, Levin finds the moment when everything makes sense and everything will be alright. He accepts his position and his faith and lives happily ever after.

I did love the book, again, mostly for Levin’s storyline. Anna’s storyline did bring a little relief from the intense economic, philosophical and self-reflection aspects Levin brought about. If I read this four years ago, I would have been all over Anna’s romantic story. Now, it’s like “you’re a rich girl with first world problems. You’ll survive (or not….cough cough wink wink)”. I would recommend everyone to read it. I would also recommend you take a longgggggg break from the Russian writers afterwards because it does mentally drain you.

Next stop, the French!

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Manners Matter

When we are young we are taught to say “please” and “thank you”, “hello” and “goodbye”, “yes sir/ma’am” or “no sir/ma’am” (if you’re from the south) and the like. Now as I grow older and with the advancement of technology, the simple etiquette skills are fading away. Please for the love of god people MIND YOUR MANNERS.

If you have seen my post, “Take My Phone…Please” then you clearly know cellphone usage during a conversation is a no no for me. Unfortunately, it still continues on. We presented our project for management over change & negotiation. In my group is an international student from Africa. He speaks Portuguese and his English is broken. Considering my parents are immigrants from South America, I have always been taught to have patience with people whose first language is not English. The kids in the class, also international kids with little English skills, sat there with their phones and laptops out not paying any attention to my group member. I am sorry but how rude! Please people, put the damn phone down and pay attention because there are people who are trying really hard here.

Manners do matter people. It’s a simple concept anyone can master. It’s more than saying “Please” and “thank you” but picking up after yourself, listening to people when they are talking to you and even opening the door for other people.

I work at Whole Foods. I love my job and my store because we are one big (sometimes dysfunctional) family. Our store is in a relatively wealthy suburban area. To put it simply: they are snobs. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of cool guests that come by but some just drive us nuts because they think they are entitled and can treat us like inferiors.

On the weekends, I work on my front runner position where I greet guests, do cart runs and market certain items while helping everyone behind the scenes as well. During my cart runs, I pick up the trash from the guests including the coupon books I passed out, sample cups with leftover food and even half-drunk coffee cups with red lipstick on the mouthpiece. I do not know if that person is sick or touched raw meat or has a sick child. A little tip if you are in my position: take a sanitizing wipe and pick it up followed by an immediate trip to the restroom to wash your hands. But that’s besides the point. The point is these hypocrites are always bragging about how they compost their food and recycle their bags and do all these things to help the planet but fail to pick up their own trash. You are not helping the planet! You are spreading diseases and bacteria around! To make matters worse, you people with kids are setting a bad example.

The other day I was outside pushing carts. As I was walking, a kid came out of his car and dumped the popcorn sample on the floor in front of me. And looked at me as if expecting me to clean it up! No! It does not work like that! You are not supposed to litter! You walk your little butt up to the trash can and dump it properly! Noticing a crowd of birds over my head, I let the birds eat the flax powder covered popcorn.

I do not mean for this to be a ranting piece, but is funny to see how common sense has left society. Here are a few tips to improve my job, along with every other person’s job, a little bit better:
– say “please” and “thank you” as if you really mean it. Don’t be snobby, be humble. We are people too.
– pick up your trash no matter where you are. You are keeping your neighborhood clean and tidy and preventing
diseases from spreading.
– teach your kids proper manners and uphold them yourselves in your daily lives. Otherwise you’re going to have
that kid who backtalks and says “well (mom/dad) doesn’t do it so why should I?”
– think of others before yourself for once in awhile. Believe me, not everything is about you.

With these little tips and notices, I hope society will wake up and smell the coffee (and then throw it away in its proper place).

Just Be You

A few days ago my good friend Talbot and I were discussing the American hipster culture and a new story I am writing. My spiel so to speak went something like this:

“Nah I’m not a hipster. I’m just ambitious. By saying I’m hipster is mainstream because everyone thinks they’re hipster. So you are not hipster if you join the hipster culture because hipsters are against the norm. But by joining the group you are joining the norm and adapting to the expectations and norms of a stereotypical hipster. So I’m not a hipster or a mainstream. I’m just me.”

Talbot’s response: “I swear you are like Joe: an honest to God hipster.”

 

Why define yourself to a group? Why should one adapt themselves to fit in? Honestly, if you want to stand out in this world, just be you. 🙂

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” 

(more…)

“It’s Always an Adventure with Africa!”

On Friday a good friend of mine and I went to our high school to visit our teachers. From the moment we entered the building, memories of our years in that building flooded into our minds: the mornings in the library, early morning cross country practice, singing in the choir room, hanging out in the theater room, homeroom in the cafeteria, European history class and, our favorite, tangoing during a thunderstorm in the courtyard on a May afternoon.

Our visits contained the usual questions and comments: “Look at you guys all grown up!”, “You’re looking sharp Talbot!” (referring to Talbot’s AFROTC uniform and buzz cut), “What are your majors”, “Is this class better than ours”, “What are you teaching the class right now”, “Oh that was my favorite unit!” and so on. One visit stuck out to me especially.

We came into our AP U.S History/AP Psychology teacher’s, Mr. L, room hoping to see our former outgoing red-head teacher question us with college and life. To give a better description, he looks like Mitchell from Modern Family (minus the gay aspect). He did ask us how life after high school is going for us but his outgoing nature seemed absent. In fact the entire room seemed absent of its passionate love for knowledge. It was merely a shadow of its former self. He was sitting at his disorganized desk reading a chapter on Africa for his World History class (he know teaches World History and AP Psych). “It’s always an adventure with Africa!” I said, trying to lighten up the mood.

“What’s really going on?” Talbot and I asked with some concern.

“Things have changed. No one is into it anymore. I tell the cool stories but no one is interested like you guys were,” Mr. L replied. “These parts aren’t what they used to be. If you haven’t noticed but I stopped my QOTD.” QOTD was his infamous Quote of the Day. Each day on the front board would be a humorous, insightful or odd quote from people across time. It was meant to get people thinking about life or history, depending on the quote’s context. “You need to be careful with what you say if you want to keep your job.”

Here is a little insight to our school. Vandegrift High was established in 2009. It was named after fallen Lt. Matthew Ryan Vandegrift who grew up in our community and graduated from Texas A&M. He died in April 2008 in Iraq. From the stories we have heard, Vandegrift was a one in a million kid who was always there for his family and friends, kind to everyone and had an aura that’s indescribable to speak through words. His Battalion’s motto is our school motto today: “Second to None”.

Our class shared some of the characteristics Vandegrift had. We were outgoing, for the most part passionate about things we were learning, and just different compared to the classes under us. We set the expectations as the first class to spend four years as Vandegrift Vipers (there is a class above us but they only spent 3 years in VHS).

We were saddened by his grim new outlook on life. Teaching psychology was his passion and to see it tear down and on the verge of slipping broke our hearts. There is some minuscule hope left judging by his refusal to give his World History class coloring worksheets. But society and the future of the students are still in question.

Wishing Mr. L would cheer up and realize all hope is not lost, I showed him my “Imagination is Key” blog post. When he finished, he smiled and said “at least we have you guys to keep going.” If I am correct, his day was brightened.

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