UCLA: A Year in Review

My year at UCLA started off rocky and progressively became better. One of the best things about UCLA is the range of opportunities it offers recreationally and academically. The biggest turn off for me was the large lecture classes. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m thrilled to have completed my Bachelor’s English.

1. Martial Arts Classes
Aside from my English classes, I took martial arts classes that were some of my best experiences at UCLA. The martial arts instructors are incredibly knowledgable about their field and concerned about student learning, often taking time after class to answer questions and demonstrate another technique. The classes are usually less than 20 people. The smaller the class, the better, because you receive more personalized instruction. The classes are about $30-50, an amazing deal compared to $100+ from a studio. UCLA has a free Bruin Self Defense class that I recommend to all UCLA students to improve awareness of your surroundings and personal safety.

2. Clubs
UCLA has a lot of clubs based on academic subjects and outside interests. All of the clubs I participated in were student run. I like how we can be more involved with managing club events and activities. However, the success of the club is very dependent on the student leader. At my community college, each club had a professor supervisor who gave structure and assistance to the club. The clubs were still student run, but I found the support of a professor to be valuable with sharing experience and insight that I wish UCLA had.

3. Professors, Classes, and Teaching Assistants
At any school you will have some good and some bad professors and UCLA is no different. There are some truly amazing professors at UCLA and I found them in my small, seminar-like classes. The biggest downside to UCLA is the 100-150 student lecture classes. I find lecture classes boring. With the vast amount of information available on the internet, I think the best use of class time is the exploration of ideas rather than an information dump. As with professors, there are some good and some bad TAs. Most TAs are only a few years further down the education road than you and so you can miss out on the wealth of knowledge and experience that a professor has. Some TAs are trying to prove themselves as knowledgable and capable to a group of people who are very close to being the TA’s peers and this ego interferes with learning. Often my TA sections would repeat information from the lectures. UCLA tries to make up for huge classes by breaking them down into smaller discussion sections with TAs, which is cheap with TAs cost less than professors. UCLA sacrifices the quality of education for the quantity of students it can enroll. A good rule of thumb is if a class has TAs, it is a big class of 40+ students. If possible, I highly recommend taking classes that do not have TAs. My best classes were small classes that did not have TAs and I found them much more personal and enriching.

4. Parking
The horrendous parking at UCLA has become a modern legend. And I can confirm this legend is true. UCLA is not a commuter-friendly school. If you do receive a parking permit, (yes, you have to submit an application by the deadline) and I’ve heard of commuters being denied, you will spend about $1,000 for the academic year. If you don’t live on campus, I suggest taking the bus, which is what I did. I took the Big Blue Bus that is convenient and cheap. You receive a discount on bus fare with your UCLA student ID card. You can also buy student passes for about $30 per quarter and ride the bus an unlimited number of times.

5. Quarter System
The quarter system is great if you like going through material at the speed of sound. A quarter is ten weeks and a summer session is six or eight weeks, depending on which session you do. Ten weeks is not long enough (never mind six weeks) to sufficiently delve into topics, especially for English. The benefit of the quarter system for me was that I was able to finish my Bachelor’s in a year and two summer sessions instead of two years.

UCLA is a huge school, but I found my niche in clubs and small classes. The weather is amazing year round. It is Los Angeles. It’s a city with a lot of people and opportunities. Whichever school you choose and wherever you are, I believe you can follow Dead Poets Society’s wisdom of carpe diem and find more great possibilities for you.

From the Corner of His Eye: Book Review

From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz is an engaging novel because of its many faceted taps into different subjects, quick action, and the vivid and unique characters. I did not do any research on the book before reading it, and so while reading it I was trying to pin down a genre for it. There’s some mysticism with Maria’s card tricks, her ritual for Bartholomew, and Thomas’ coin tricks. There’s crime with Junior’s murders. There’s a bit of sci-fi with the idea of parallel universes. And there’s action.

Moving from chapter to chapter is going from one disaster to the next. There’s two accidents, though one a murder, another murder, a coma, death from pregnancy from rape, death from polio, loss of eyesight from cancer, and the woes seem endless. For such a long book, over 700 pages, it never felt slow, because there is so much happening. Koontz never withholds information from you. You know Bartholomew will lose his eyesight. You know Agnes will die. You know Junior is going to kill two more people. Koontz makes it explicit. This fact telling style makes you all the more interested because it’s not about what happens, but how it happens, and you’ll keep reading to find out how it unfolds and how the characters take it.

I admire Koontz’s ability to have many characters and make them each unique. Often with a big cast, I feel like names are being thrown at me and that I do not have a grounding in who their characters are. At the beginning, Maria feels like a minor side character, but she has a role throughout the book. No one is brought in simply to serve a purpose to help another character or move the plot along and then is dropped. Every character brought in is milked for all of their worth. I enjoyed being pulled into different characters’ lives who seemed to have nothing to do with each other, and then seeing how Koontz weaved together all of their stories into beautiful harmony.

I think using similes for descriptions is a fine balance between the obvious and the ludicrous, and Koontz has his scales perfectly tipped. His similes are fresh. Instead of tossing in a simile to liven up the text which often serves instead to mystify the reader as to how the simile relates to the context, Koontz’s similes help clarify a feeling, an idea, a description and are appropriate.

The ending was almost a little too neat, but after all of the turmoil the characters had to suffer through, it was well deserved and satisfying.

America as Hughe’s Hope

Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” works through three stories, the poor white man, the black man, and the immigrant, to address class, race, and borders. The American Dream is more than the house with a white picket fence, two kids, and a dog, which has been tossed aside as implausible. The American Dream is a search for a land that is safe from turmoil inside and outside. This Dream is not particular to Americans or even the human race, but all living beings. A desire for the ability to live and prosper.

America is “Tangled in that ancient endless chain/ Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!” The poor, the black, and the immigrant are divisions created by the exploiters to divide and conquer all. The problems of America are ultimately from greed. Of taking more than you need, more than you could ever use, for the sake of power, at the expense of other people. Of not seeing people as people, but animals to be taken advantage of.

Even though America has not been the land of the free, to Hughes America embodies the hope that one day it will be, with “The land that never had been yet-/ And yet must be – the land where every man is free.” Even though the American Dream of the white picket fence does not exist, the American Dream of the free and safe home still exists as a driving hope.

America is derived from Amalrich, meaning “work-ruler” (Online Etymology). Is America ruled by the working class or a ruler of the workers?

Hughes’ poem ends as a call to action for we the people to reclaim America from “the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies.” Will America remain in the trope of “Gold, Glory, and God” or become a land of the free?

Timelessness of Letters

The number of letters mailed has been declining each year as we move to electronic means of communication (U.S. Statistics). I find handwritten letters to be much more personal. But when we do have time to write a letter, get an envelope, and buy postage? And by the time the recipient has received the letter, things have changed. If we write letters that are not about the daily ongoings, but that are about giving advice or explaining something, then we can have letters that are timeless.

It is certainly convenient and fast to send an email, but an email can be diverted to junk mail and ignored or deleted with a click. We live in a physical world and the physical letter will leave a tangible impression on us in a way that an email does not.

C. S. Lewis wrote responses by hand to letters he received from fans. In one of them, he offers practical points about writing. This is a timeless letter in that, although it was addressed to a specific reader at a specific time, its advice holds true even today. The value of the letter is as a means of exchange, the recognition of another person’s thoughts and participating in a dialogue.

How many emails do you receive in a day? And how many of those do you respond to? Often emails today are more about giving information than an interest in communication between two individuals.

It takes time to write a letter. Time that we often say we don’t have. Writing a letter can be a way to slow down and make time for the things that we value.

The letter featured in the image is another handwritten letter by C. S. Lewis to Janet.

Between the World and Me Review

Ta-Nehisi Coates framed his non-fiction book Between the World and Me as a long letter to his son. Besides being non-fiction, this letter format gives the novel a personal tone, especially as it is addressed to a loved one. At first, I was uncomfortable with this level of intimacy because I felt like I was prying into another person’s life. At the same time, being first confronted with the straightforward salutation of “Son” I felt distanced because I am not a man and I am not family. As I was reading, I realized that “Son” is not simply Coates’ own son, who is not named until page 68, about half way through the book. “Son” is an address to all black men. It is Coates, a middle-aged black man, speaking to the new black generation about what it was like for him to live as a black body in America and how black bodies are still in danger.

Between the World and Me is gendered because it is written by a father to his son. Although gender does not fall under the scope of the novel, Coates recognizes it.
“The girl from Chicago understood this too, and she understood something more — that all are not equally robbed of their bodies, that the bodies of women are set out for pillage in ways I could never truly know” (65).

The photographs are beautiful and give a raw human quality of a scrapbook or journal that I do not think could be wholly achieved through text alone. In the photos, you see Coates and his family and friends which makes his narrative concrete in a way that bypasses the inherent construct of text.

While the focus of Between the World and Me is race, there is a greater human idea of what the American Dream means and how it influences people, both the oppressors and the oppressed.

My favorite passage from Between the World and Me:
“The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing. And it became clear that this was not just for the dreams concocted by Americans to justify themselves but also for the dreams that I had conjured to replace them. I had thought that I must mirror he outside world, create a carbon copy of white claims to civilization. It was beginning to occur to me to question the logic of the claim itself. I had forgotten my own self-interrogations pushed upon me by my mother, or rather I had not yet apprehended their deeper, lifelong meaning. I was only beginning to learn to be wary of my own humanity, of my own hurt and anger—I didn’t yet realize that the boot on your neck is just as likely to make you delusional as it is to ennoble” (50).

3 Appeals of References

1. Blending the new with the familiar
Some books do not simply quote or allude to another work, but create a new version of the story. Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles is one example of young adult fiction that spins off of fairy tales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. These fairy tales are stories that we already enjoy. A spin off story is entertaining in that we are able to connect elements of it to the original and yet feel that the story is fresh with new details.

2. Building off of pre-existing works
Sometimes words from one character reappear in another character’s mouth. In Brave New World, John speaks Miranda’s words from The Tempest “O brave new world that has such people in it.” Hearing the same words but in a different context adds layers of depth. Is John simply another Miranda figure who has been sheltered and is ignorant of the world? Or is the sexual tension with Miranda layered with John’s tension with seeing a civilized society?

3. Connecting individual pieces to the greater world
One of the greatest part of being a writer may be the ability to synthesize ideas and connect works. While a book is a single object, it is never alone because there is a history to it and a context of the culture it is published in. Some works even derive their whole meaning off of references, such as the Epic Rap Battles of History.

Instead of seeing references as an annoyance in that it may cause us to pause and research them if we do not know them, references should be seen as our way of connecting pieces of the world to make sense of it. From history to pop culture, references are everywhere.

Is Literature Degenerating?

Edna O’Brien details the merits of literature to come to the question of whether or not literature is currently dying out. While I do not think literature will ever be dead (the only exception I see being in an apocalypse where there are no longer beings that can create or read literature), I think it is evolving.

O’Brien asks, “Will it [literature] seep into the fabric of social and political thought, will it have its faithful zealots, or will there be a falling away”. With this question, I think we have to ask, does society create literature or does literature influence society? I do not think the answer has to be only one, but that society and literature both influence each other. The way O’Brien has phrased the question, it seems like it is only literature that can influence society. Instead of seeing literature as dying because it is not changing society, we can see it as literature changing and reflecting a society that is changing.

But if Steiner is seeing society as one “in search of easier, bolder distractions and of pleasures less perplexing to the brain,” then it is not so much whether or not literature exists as to the quality of literature. In our fast paced world, with reality TV shows and latest news of celebrities, it seems the hard questions of literature are not being asked. Then is literature degenerating?

Rossetti’s Blend of Poetry and Painting

Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote a collection of poems on art of which two sonnets are on his own painting “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.” Aside from the significance of these works in regard to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I was fascinated with the combination of two genres that are typically treated separately: visual art and poetry.

Today we are bombarded with images combines with words, but the pictures are the focus and the words are a tagline to accompany the picture rather than a work of art in themselves. A common example is advertisements and memes. Often if you take away the picture, the words do not make sense. Whereas if you take away the words, the picture still communicates a message, though perhaps with a different tint.

The sonnets were said to have been on a piece of paper that was attached to the painting. The painting was reframed in 1864 and Rossetti’s poems were inscribed on the frame (Rossetti Archive). The poems do not serve to simply describe the painting. Instead, the entire piece is a story told in three parts, perhaps on purpose to symbolize the Christian trinity. Each part of the trio can stand alone, but together the poems and painting provide different perspectives and a fuller story.  The poems are descriptions, the first of Mary and the second of the painting though both end with the knowledge that Mary will soon be told that she will bear Jesus Christ.

Although the second sonnet starts explicitly, “These are the symbols,” it does not mention every symbol in the painting, such as the dove, and it does not piece out the meaning of every symbol (l.1) . While the poem notes, “the lily standeth, which/ Is Innocence,” the description is simplistic and does not fully embody the symbol (ll. 8-9). The poems serve to highlight and expand upon points within the painting. The poems are not a translation of the poem. The combination of these three pieces shows an emphasis on deciphering symbols in order to understand a story rather than purely reading through, whether a poem or painting, to get the story. Instead of isolating genres, we can combine them to make new works of art.

The Fate of the Sun in From Hell

From Hell by Alan Moore (writer) and Eddie Campbell (artist) is a graphic novel account of the Jack the Ripper murders based upon extensive research along with fictionalized elements such as the identity of Jack of the Ripper.

While William Gull, royal physician and freemason who is depicted as the murderer, shows carriage driver, John Netley, London’s landmarks to expose their mystical significance, Gull notes, “…when this world and its sisters shall at last be swallowed by a Father Sun grown red and bloated as a leech” (Moore, 4, 25).

When Gull places the murder of the women in terms of a necessity to maintain a world system of patriarchal order, the murders take on a sacrificial, divine power. This scene in From Hell is taking place in 1888. Would they have known about red giants at this time? With the wealth of information available, you’d think it’d be easy to find the history of red giants, but there’s surprisingly little. We know a lot about what red giants are and current research being done on them, but not the history of the term “red giant.” David Fabricius discovered the first variable star in 1596, which we understand to be the first documentation of a red giant. However, I do not think the term “red giant” existed in the sixteenth century.

The Hertzsprung Russell diagram was created around 1910 to classify stars according to magnitude, luminosity, and temperature. I believe the terms for classifying stars as dwarfs and giants came about around the same time as the HR diagram. Even though the term “red giant” did not exist in 1888, the concept may have. As Gull was a doctor, an educated man, it is plausible that he would have had access to scientific information.

I bring in this science history to show, even if Gull did not know about red giants, that Moore placing this connection displays the danger in people, like Gull, attaching facts about nature to the ideologies they create. That the sun will become a red giant is used by Gull as a natural justification for the patriarchal system he wants to maintain. The sisters would be Mercury and Venus, which are closest to the sun, and so would be enveloped by the sun’s expansion first. Venus is also known as Earth’s twin, because it is similar in size and distance from the sun. In Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love. The physical destruction of Venus by the sun symbolizes men’s destruction of women. Gull compares the red giant sun to a leech and I thought it was interesting he made this comparison through blood. It seems like the sun is sucking the life force out of the planets in order to grow larger. This comparison can also symbolize the blood of the women Gull murders and so Gull grows in power, and insanity, as he metaphorically feeds off the blood of these women.

Donne’s Inconstant Indifference

The narrator of John Donne’s “The Indifferent” polarizes women as being from the “country” or from the “town” with many variations across the spectrum to show how he loves a range of women (l. 4). The final qualifier of the first stanza is “I can love any, so she be not true” (l. 9). While these women are different, the one trait they have in common is their infidelity. Though the narrator describes the women as varying in physical characteristics, sociability, and emotions, they are the same kind of woman in their unfaithfulness.

With his first question, the narrator suggests that practicing vices are what make these women happy. With that invocation other “mothers,” the narrator suggests the women do it out of rebellion against the old standard of relationships (l. 11). The narrator’s fourth question implies that the women would feel guilty if men were true and they were not. The narrator shifts the blame onto the women that if they were faithful, men would be faithful, too, which mimics a child’s logic of “she started it.” The narrator does not seem to care if the women take his money, though a fear in today’s divorces is the settlement of assets, so long as he is free to love whoever he pleases. Donne does an interesting flip from the middle of the second stanza, line 14, of men and women being the same in their actions, to the end of the second stanza, where the narrator does not want to become faithful because the woman is being faithful to him. Donne’s use of “grow” is notable in that in context it means the narrator becomes the woman’s lover. There is also literal growth, such as a child grows taller a physical change, and so “growth” has a connotation of change, yet the action is that the narrator would stay constantly the woman’s lover (l. 18). Further “subject” has an implication of agency over that of an object, yet the phrasing of “Must I” insinuates that the narrator does not have a choice (l. 17).

For love, the women’s vice of inconstancy is the “sweetest part” (l. 20). It is appropriate for Donne to invoke a supporter of infidelity Venus, the Roman goddess of love, who has had many affairs. In lines 24-25, those who are faithful lovers are Venus’ enemies. The last four lines are spoken by Venus. Since Venus’ words are not offset with quotation marks, it can be taken that the narrator agrees with her. The narrator and Venus, who are both unfaithful, are upset by those who are constant because they show that it is possible to be faithful and they diminish the pool of possible lovers. The last two lines are Venus’ curse upon the faithful, that they will be faithful only to those who are unfaithful. Thus, the faithful are spited and there are plenty of lovers to go around because there are still unfaithful people.

This concern of having different lovers is both an interest in change and a need to remove guilt. First, a variety of lovers provides a drama typical of grade school that continues through adulthood over who is going out with who and who is cheating on who. This drama is not only a source of entertainment as seen in countless TV shows (such as “How I Met Your Mother,” “Big Bang Theory,” etc.), but a source of learning and social interaction. Who a person associates with can be an indication of character and values. People can also learn about a person’s personality by observing the person’s behavior in social settings. How they act under pressure, what they do when they discover they’re being cheated on, and so on. A person’s use of masks and personas can complicate these observations. The narrator can love any woman because they are all inconstant. The narrator wants to maintain this infidelity because it means he can also be inconstant and be removed from any moral qualms. The narrator can then have relationships with a lot of women.

Who are “the indifferent” that the title speaks of? The indifferent are those who are inconstant because they do not care if their current lover is cheating or if he/she leaves them. The title then speaks to the dissatisfaction of those who are inconstant. Another way the need for change and variety could be fifth felt more satisfactorily is by doing different events and actions, rather than different lovers, which could then be shared with another person in a constant, deep relationship.