Saturday, June 2, 2012

'Tis the season for grad-u-a-tion, fa la la la la, la la la snore

Yesterday, the University of Massachusetts, Boston's graduating class of 2012 all put on their caps and their gowns and lined up and received their diplomas. While I am part of that graduating class, I did not put on a cap or gown, nor did I even rent one, nor did I attend the graduation at all. Instead, I woke up in Newton, after drinking beers and watching "Community" last night with my sister and step mom. I drove the car home, (I'm working on getting my license) ate some quick breakfast, grabbed my gym bag and went to the gym. I came home, showered, and went to work at the store. The parents of my closest friends were appalled when I told them I wasn't going to attend my own college graduation. The reasons were many: I was a transfer student to UMB; I was halfway through art school before I realized it wasn't for me. By then, I had already made a comfy circle of friends, and wasn't really looking for more. In addition to not having any friends at UMB, I've been in college for 6 years, and it has been a grueling, tedious, anger-filled battle to the bitter end. I feel as if I've won a war. I felt no reason to engage in the ritual of graduation in this particular situation. My parents were thrilled that they would not be required to come sit through a long, hot, boring ceremony. I am thrilled I don't have to pretend like my college experience was the same one that the normal, smiling, valedictorian-quality kids had, as they jostle each other and grip diplomas and feel like they're going to change the world. I don't want to change the world. I work my book store job, and I pursue a bunch of creative endeavors, and I don't know what I'm going to do now that I've graduated. I'm planning on making it up as I go along.

So was it all worth it? Were the countless hours spent dragging myself down hallways and filling in scantron bubbles, the cafeteria food, the early mornings and late nights, were they worth it? Eh, kind of. Most of it was stupid and designed to judge me as a human being from a seat of requirement I do not necessarily agree with. I had to jump through a lot of hoops that I didn't really feel were relevant. I had to work collaboratively with a lot of idiots that dragged me down (really? You're a senior in college and you don't know how to make a PowerPoint presentation? Really upsetting, really, truly, hideously upsetting), and so I can't say that I feel like I really embraced the world of academia. I guess, in the end, I'm not sure I trust what I suspect to be a host of predominantly white and predominantly male people to decide a curriculum on which my worth as a human being is placed, and that really got in the way of allowing me to realize my full potential as a student. I'm just not 100% convinced that I need to learn what that host of staff thinks I need to learn. I know that's so "On the Road" of me, but I'm not fond of that extreme either. I just exist. I excuse myself from the necessity of excuses, politely and with much bowing, as I walk backwards through this conversation.

However. I did get to read a lot of really sweet books in school. Which brings me to this: Zoe Hyde's English Degree in 10 Or Fewer Books (in No Particular Order). These are all books I read in class that fundamentally changed the way I read and interpret literature, or any kind of content, for that matter. These are the books I feel that everyone should read, the books that are the building blocks for my particular canon, and they are all books I read in class of some variety. 

1. Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville.
I'm not one of those oh-so-trendy Melville fanatics, I was assigned Melville during a time when I felt particularly rebellious towards school, and I think I had just experienced a break up as well, so I did a lot of skimming of Melville's words, (and a lot of ordering from Foodler) however, I did read this short story all the way through, and the times I have gotten a reference to this story made by a tv show or co-worker or whatever are innumerable. I think it's one of the most heavily referenced fictional tropes there is, perhaps because it is so short and the main character has such defining qualities ("I would prefer not to"). Whatever the reason, do yourself a favor, and read the story, if only so you can bring it up at parties and be able to say you've "read Melville", as in, "oh yes, I've read Melville - gripping stuff, wot!"

2. You may choose one, if you must: Orlando or Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
The best class I ever took was a class about Virginia Woolf, which was taught by my favourite teacher. These two books were my favourites from that class; but wait, I hear you say. What about A Room of One's Own? What about To the Lighthouse? What can I say, V. Woolf had a lot of hits, but these two are really something. In the first, the main character changes gender almost inexplicably halfway through the novel, in an otherwise fairly non-fantastical story. Orlando is also, likewise inexplicably, a highlander who lives forever through the ages. The rest of the story is not quite as gripping, but I must advise all young, angry women to read this.

Mrs. Dalloway is just so good. Any novel that takes place entirely in one day is ballsy, but I loved the - what I perceived to be - undertones of straight up insanity from Mrs. D placed throughout the novel, but most noticeably, right around the beginning of the story, where she talks about strands of nothing floating through the air. Fun!

3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
I've been assigned this book a few times in classes, and once in high school, and I know this is what every dumb book review claims but every time I read it, I really did get something new out of it. I have a love/hate relationship with books where the protagonist is not likeable. If it strikes me in the right way, like Things Fall Apart did, I can absorb the material and get a lot out of it. Right now, however, I'm struggling with the HBO series "Girls", for much the same reason. I just don't like it when people are mean to their parents if they don't deserve it, ya'll. I'm aware I'm making this point not four paragraphs after mentioning I hang out a lot with my step mom. I have other friends you guys, friends my own age. I swear. I swear!

4. A Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill
I have not read a ton of plays that were not written by Shakespeare, but somehow this little guy snuck itself into my curriculum, and I liked it while reading it even before I saw the movie with Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards, among others. The movie is so good, and the play is an interesting portrayal of a well-to-do but struggling family; an alcoholic father and brother, a sensitive, tuberculosis-having youngest son, and at the family's hard, black heart, a mother who has quietly become addicted to heroine. Right?! Heroine! Like, for real, heroine. Like, she disappears upstairs every once in a while and comes down all glassy-eyed with pupils the size of saucers, and everyone's all, "Mom, you really need to stop doing junk" and she's like "let me just feel your face for a minute."

5. Collections by William Carlos Williams or Emily Dickinson
The poetry selection was hard, since I love poetry a lot because of, you know, copious feelings. However, since I have to choose, I guess I would say, if you want the bare bones minimum of the Zoe Hyde English Degree poetry requirement, you should just read these collections. The first isn't actually the collection of WCW I wanted to recommend, if you can find it, the one of him in the tree is really good, but it doesn't really matter. Read his old stuff first so you can fall in love, and then his later, more disjointed prose won't be as jarring.

Emily Dickinson is self-explanatory. Are you nobody? I'm nobody too. Hop to it, students.

6. The Odyssey by Homer. Robert Fitzgerald translation MANDATORY!
I first read The Odyssey when I was a freshman in high school, and could barely perform mundane activities like tie my shoes or wash my hair, let alone read a book like The Odyssey, so I didn't. Nope, straight up did not read it. Then, when it was assigned later in high school, I tried to read it, but my heart wasn't in it. "I just don't understand the book", I claimed. Then, finally, during a weird literature class in college, I was introduced to the epic poem for the third time, this time, in the Robert Fitzgerald translation. I read the whole thing, cover to cover, and whats more, understood it all. I'll never be sure if it was the third-times-a-charm or Fitzgerald that finally untied the knot of my own ignorance, but either way, I'm assigning this translation and bidding you good luck.

7. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelmen.
I didn't want to have a curriculum devoid of graphic novels, but alas, I was not assigned any graphic novels in school, so this suggestion comes care of my friend Ashley, who read this in high school, so it counts. I read it outside of school. This book represents a lot of things to me, namely, the struggle that I think a lot of creative professionals (and non-professionals) found themselves when the towers fell. I suppose, after the attacks, all Americans were struggling to re-find their place in society, in their families, in their personal world. This book also has the benefit of depicting a part of our collective American history.

8. Othello by William Shakespeare.
I took a ton of Shakespeare classes in college, I'm not really sure why. I love Shakespeare, but I would not really call myself a big enough fan to have taken 3 whole courses on the subject. Buuuut, I did. Othello is probably still my favourite of the plays that don't have fairies in them. I love the power struggle between Iago and Othello. Although, kind of a lack of awesome female characters....lame.

9. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
This is the only novel by Vonnegut I have read to this date, and when I told said friend Ashley that, she really mad at me. I don't know how I got through high school and 6 years of college without being assigned more Vonnegut, but there you have it. I did read this novel, however, so I am assigning it in particular, but others would have me tell you that you should read all of Vonnegut, right now. In order to meet the Vonnegut requirement at UMZ, you must read a Vonnegut novel, that's all I'm saying.

10. The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
HAHA psyche! You thought you were going to get away with one epic poem and some collections?! LOL, my friends. Nopers, you're also going to have to read this monster. Don't worry, we'll skim the footnotes, we'll talk about it in class, I'll bring doughnuts, everything is going to be okay. We are going to get through this together, as a team, and I guarantee, by the end of it, you will understand like, at least a third of this poem. That's a lot!

Congratulations! You have completed your course of study here at the University of Massachusetts, Zoe's English Degree in 10 Books Or Less (in No Particular Order)! You have the benefit of, essentially, getting the best and most poignant part of my degree without all that filler and dumb stuff I had to do in between, like Math and Biology. Please print this out, fill it out, put it in a frame, hang it on a wall, and go out for a lobster dinner immediately.

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