A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Response By Gretel Dougherty

3.27.17

 

Angels are often portrayed as merciful heavenly beings capable of magic and linked with God. However, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows that perception and reality may be very different. The story is so abstract with so many elements that it can scarcely be made sense of. However, it seems to be an attack on religion at it’s core. Throughout the story, Marquez scatters small allusions to the fact that sometimes religion is not all it’s cracked up to be. The main message that this story conveys is that result oriented religion is not true faith.

 

In the very beginning of the story, a bedraggled elderly man with dingy wings suddenly arrives at a house in a small town, where a sick child and his parents were living. A neighbour concluded that he must be an angel, come to take the child away after death. The townspeople were quick to relinquish their freedom to his rule, expecting that he would provide them with miracles. People came from far and wide to implore him to heal their ailments, even though he was unwilling or unable to communicate with them. However, when he did not rise to the occasion the townspeople began treating him like a circus animal. They pulled out his feathers, threw stones at him, and even burned him with an iron, all in hopes of generating a response. The winged man did not comply, and remained as stoic as ever. If Pelayo and Elisenda, the parents of the sick child, had been paying attention, they may have noticed that throughout all the madness, their child’s health was steadily improving and they were becoming increasingly richer because of the fee they were charging to see the so called angel. But, they were too caught up in managing their new situation. This all died down, however, when a new oddity came to town. It was a girl who had been turned into a giant tarantula with the face of a human for disobeying her parents. The townspeople were more interested in her because her story provided an easily understood moral. She responded to their queries with lessons about her horrific experience. She did not simply lie in the chicken pen and withstand their attention like the winged man. While he may have been more majestic than she, a spider, people flocked to her because they received her attention and could relate to her.
The sole necessity of religion is trusting in things you do not understand, but the humans in this story were constantly searching for a moral, lesson, or miracle to validate their belief in the higher power. The true meaning of faith is living life as a beneficial and kind person, no matter if there is validation associated. When humans begin to expect a reward for their kindness, the act of kindness becomes obsolete. This kind of justified reward seeking leads to extreme greed, and the ultimate downfall of all religion should stand for.

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Beneficial Boredom

Response By Gretel Dougherty

3.8.17

 

In a study by the College of William and Mary, researchers found that creativity scores among children (based on the Torrance Test) rose until 1990, when they began a steady decline. There are many things that influence creativity in children but perhaps the most glaring change was the invention and popularisation of many technologies we consider commonplace today such as the computer, television, and smartphone. For a long time, technology was deemed something for only adults or trained professionals to utilise, but it has been becoming steadily more accessible. In 2017 we often see children as young as 1 year old playing with a smartphone or tablet. Some kindergarteners own their own smartphone. The decline in creativity is partially because of technology.

 

When information is readily available at the click of a button, it makes problem solving obsolete. Thinking outside the box to get something is necessary to teach kids creativity. If there is nothing that is desired enough to innovate, creativity scores will drop. This can be detrimental to our society in the long run. Creative and curious children will grow up to make advances in environmental preservation, space exploration, our economy, and many other fields in ways that will not be possible without the fostering of unconventional thinking. While technology is a useful and necessary tool, it has gotten to a point where people use it rather than use their brains. But, children must learn to entertain themselves. If they do not, they will constantly be searching for outside stimuli rather than listening to themselves and fulfilling their own personal needs, even as they grow and develop. This can cause excessive substance use or seeking out unhealthy relationships which can be detrimental to our society as a whole. However, we should avoid restricting access too much, because it is true that technology can be a catalyst for creativity or a source of inspiration in the correct situation. Children should not have access to any technology at all until they are about eight years old. Elementary schoolers should not have smart phones. A phone should only be received when a child begins to leave the house without a parent regularly for work, unpredictable extracurriculars, or otherwise, typically around thirteen.

 

It is proven that excessive use of technology can impact the pace of development, and impede the formation of healthy familial relationships because when screens isolate people from each other. Children in elementary school use about 7.5 hours of entertainment technology per day. 75% of these children have TV’s in their bedrooms and 50% of homes in North America have the TV on all day according to a study performed by the Kaiser Foundation in 2010. Maybe this is a societal issue. The lower pay is for families, the longer parents must work per day. This contributes to chronic generalised exhaustion, which means that parents typically have less energy for interacting with their kids. As sad as this is, such is the direction our society is heading. In order to fix this, parents must consider what is more important, and our government must decide whether the short term or the long term is more important to focus on.

Who’s Irish?

By Gish Jen

Response By Gretel Dougherty

3.23.17

 

Who’s Irish by Gish Jen is a story about immigrants, about differences in culture and about how sometimes it is hard to make change. A mother and her child in America run into constant conflict with the Grandmother of the family, who tries to impose the Chinese family dynamics she grew up with onto the parenting techniques of her daughter. This causes stress and tension within the family, and an overarching question of which culture is better? The story shows that many immigrants feel pressured to assimilate completely into American society rather than preserving parts of their culture.

 

The differences between the characters in the story highlight the necessity of integrating both new culture and old. America can only be diverse if people work to keep their heritage, but in preserving heritage it is important to be open to other points of view. The mother had chosen to assimilate into American society and adopt parenting techniques that corresponded to those used in the new country. The grandmother was still holding on to the culture she was a part of back in China. Since America was a new place, the mother was convinced it was necessary for the grandmother to change her approach towards the world. However, they were in disagreement. In Asian cultures, the parents are more respected as elders than friends, which is different than in many American families. The grandmother opened her own Chinese restaurant and maintained her perceived role in society diligently. She clearly didn’t have a good frame of reference for the ways that other parenting styles manifest, seeing as her daughter’s Irish husband didn’t have a successful family. It is natural that she would be worried for the success of her brown granddaughter, but she proved to be overly stubborn in her ways. The grandmother clearly looked down on people who did not approach the world similarly, even when it was her own daughter. This caused extreme family tension. The grandmother’s refusal to respect or even tolerate her daughter’s more Americanised views ultimately ended their relationship. While preserving culture is important, people must also work together and respect each other to achieve a common goal of peace and harmony within diversity.
America is still thought of as a place where anyone and everyone can be accepted and can achieve success if they work hard. Sophie’s grandmother’s restaurant is a prime example of this. Many people coming to the US, especially those who are seeking success rather than safety, do preserve their background culture. However, coming into the US is set to become increasingly harder in the next few years. Even though America is meant to be a place where many cultures can coexist peacefully, recent events regarding our current president show that may no longer be the case. Many more relationships could face the same end as that of the mother and grandmother, simply because of closed mindedness. In an ideal world, no one would feel pressured by society to get rid of their heritage in order to be safe, but that does happen. America needs to work even harder these days to accept people no matter their background, to contribute to a country of diversity with liberty and justice for all.

Telling Real News From Fake News

Gretel Dougherty

12.7.2016

Analyze a news-based tweet that states a claim based on its source and validity.  Use at least one additional source to evaluate the tweet’s validity.

 

https://twitter.com/FoxNews/status/806687249173712896

 

Telling real news from fake news is a big issue in today’s world. New sources that aren’t credible keep popping up. Since the internet is relatively new, people don’t have as much experience telling true from false when the jobs of fake news companies is to make people believe them. There are also a lot of issues regarding political bias, which can potentially influence elections negatively because of false news circulating about one or more candidates. Many times, such as in the recent NPR article, “Telling Fake News from Real News”, the inability to recognise incorrect information is passed off as a problem just affecting teenagers, but in reality it is a significant problem for everyone using the internet. No one can teach what they don’t know and people are very used to simply taking things they read as the truth.

This tweet is from Fox News which is notorious for incorrect information. They also only post news that supports their biased right wing views. Looking at the Bloomberg website, the company that collected the data, there are a few prominent ads, and every article on the politics page is about Trump. There is nothing demeaning him and nothing that seems particularly opinionated, but everything about him seems rather favourable. However, sources on the internet say that Bloomberg is a non biased news source. That may be so, but the main thing that is concerning about this so-called survey is that it only includes 999 people out of all 300 million in the US. Also, there is nothing saying if these people were chosen randomly or from a certain area or demographic. It also seems hard to believe that his favourability rating is up 27% in only 4 months. Donald Trump is still doing things of questionable intention regularly, including making fun of minorities and marginalising women. Based on the past they wouldn’t reflect by increasing his favourability. I would say that this information is not credible.

With the invention and growth of the internet, so many more sources with untrue information are coming on to the scene. This includes some large scale media companies, especially those that cater to extreme left or right wing demographics. Sometimes opinion pieces are mislabeled or misinterpreted as factual, and that is when things can get dangerous. It is more important than ever to make sure that people are aware that not everything they read is accurate. However, studies show that when people are aware there may be a questionable news source in the mix, they are less likely to trust everything they read. Awareness is key when surfing the net, and it can only get more common from here.

It’s a Good Life

By Jerome Bixby

Response by Gretel Dougherty

11.1.16

Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to writing but sometimes it becomes clear whether or not a story is good writing. It is rare that writing is interesting and good but not thought provoking, because as with any other type of art, it is meant to help the viewer see the world in a new way. However, all writing is subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “It’s a Good Life” was considered an intriguing enough story to make into a television episode, but it was not all that thought provoking for me personally. For this reason, it is an unsuccessful story.

Many times, the stories that hit closest to home are the ones that involve a personal connection. This story wasn’t relatable to my life like the other one we read. It was set in an isolated place, and it only had to do with the human mind under the pressure of fear. However, there was nothing new in this story. We all know how humans react to constant fear. It involves tiptoeing around the source, constant paranoia, and the occasional burst of anger. None of the characters seemed to resonate with me. They weren’t unique. It seemed as though they were there simply to further the plot. Anthony was just like any other kid with too much power, messing up the lives of everyone because he doesn’t know how to use it. Looking into the mind of Anthony, the child, was interesting but it was in no way directly relatable to real life which made it seem somewhat like there was no point for the reader to try and figure out a meaning.

It almost seemed like the story was a half formed idea the author wrote down and then published before it’s time. It got a lot of attention that it probably didn’t deserve. The writing seemed domestic and boring. It wasn’t stunningly beautiful or ugly. It didn’t seem to have a reason for being the way it was, and I didn’t appreciate it. It made the story seem unfinished. The only possible insight I gained from it was that maybe it was a metaphor for government censorship. But, there wasn’t enough evidence to further the claim. I was left with a general feeling of “why are all these things happening”. The end of the story wasn’t satisfying. It didn’t all tie together in the end. I suppose nothing really does, but if it’s a story, not real life, then I think everything ought to tie together. Even if it is only to make people feel more secure about the fact that we are all floating on a giant rock in space.

Maybe other people saw something important in it that I missed. Maybe the story had an underlying reason for existing. Maybe it gave people some incredible new insight that helped them see the world differently. But, it didn’t help me learn about the world because it wasn’t so easily understood that it had an obvious meaning, and not abstract enough to have any meaning at all. It was at a weird middle ground that had some aspects that made perfect sense, and some aspects that were not weird enough to seem profound. There, I think, is the sentence that describes my experience of reading this story. It was not weird enough to be profound. It was written in 1953. That I know, and maybe it was weird enough and subsequently profound back then, when the world was less connected and there was less progress and less diversity than we have now. But being a millennial with access to whatever I want in a second, maybe I am numb to weirdness by now.

Every Little Hurricane

By Sherman Alexie

Response By Gretel Dougherty

10.25.16

Every Little Hurricane by Sherman Alexie uses the metaphor of hurricanes to represent a fight between his uncles and the more overarching issues surrounding the Spokane Indian Reservation. A hurricane is the best way to describe the experiences of native people in the United States.  Rain and tears are the same thing, winds represent tension. Alexie writes, “For years, Victor feared that he was going to drown while it was raining, so that even when he thrashed through the lake and opened his mouth to scream, he would taste even more water falling from the sky.” This signifies that Victor is drowning in the sadness suffered by everyone on the reservation. Alexie continues to use small references to weather throughout the story, making it possible to identify and better understand the magnitude of what is going on. However, it seems like Victor, the main character, still has hope that things could turn out better for him.

Living through hardship is all about finding coping mechanisms, and there are passive and active types, as well as healthy and destructive types. Alcoholism and physical fights are both types of coping mechanisms discussed in the story. Alexie compares the fight between his uncles to a hurricane, but he compares the alcoholism on the reservation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, making a very important distinction between natural and human made devastation. Victor also tries praying near the end of the story, which could be a sign of either hope or desperation, or a little bit of both. Desperation proves to be a recurring theme, and of course one of the toughest situations someone can be in. It is represented especially clearly by the scene where Victor’s father keeps opening and closing his wallet in hopes that some money will appear. The main hurricane is poverty, with other disasters spinning off of it such as alcoholism, and depression because of the fact that it is next to impossible to move out of the absolute lowest possible economic class.

Alcohol is a liquid, along with rain, tears and sweat, all of which are mentioned in the story.  Liquids are a huge part of that weather metaphor. However, reading the story is like sitting inside a house and listening to thunder outside, without a cause for fear because the struggles can’t get close enough to hurt you. Some people ignore them. But, the native people are outside in the hurricane. Broken people getting tossed around by the winds of unspeakable losses and subsequent sickness, poverty, alcoholism and betrayal. All these cause a overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, which leads to fights like the one in the story between Adolph and Arnold. The only thing to do is to fight it out to make it feel like something is happening, or worth it.  

Forcing a group into extreme poverty can cause people to form incredibly strong bonds with each other. There is one line in the story that was heart wrenchingly true. “(Victor) could see his uncles slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love.” When there is so much love between people, losses and fights hurt even more. Is that better than the mediocre life of higher education, college debt, and weak family connections that is experienced by many disconnected working class families in the USA today? The reality of reservation life is so different from anywhere else that it can barely even be compared. But, maybe an emotional rollercoaster with extreme highs and lows is better than a constant middle ground no matter what. Different environments cultivate different qualities in a person, for better or for worse, and maybe the love between Victor’s family is what empowers him to believe that he might still have a chance at success.

Bear Attack

 

The Story of Seven Boys and One Grizzly 

Seven high school students were near the end of their month-long survival course in the Alaskan wilderness, but the real schooling began when they came face to snout with the wildest thing of all.

Response by Gretel Dougherty

11.17.16

For many thousands of years, teenagers were sent into the wilderness on solo trips as a rite of passage. Spending a year alone in the desert to learn about plants, animals, and the earth in general was typical of many Native American tribes. This was not seen as too risky. It was the norm. These days, people are more scared of death. They worry that the experience of connecting with nature is overshadowed by the possibility of death, or injury. However, the practice of sending high school students on solo trips should not be challenged. Humans are increasingly less connected with the natural world, and it is important now more than ever that high schoolers experience nature and realise that there are things greater and more powerful than they are.

 

Going into nature causes changes in the way people experience things, and in the way people think about things. Today’s society allows people to get very involved in their own work. Collaboration, initiative, independence are all important in a 9-5 job but it’s hard to learn those skills without a personal teaching experience. A trip into the wilderness teaches you all of those things and a solo trip shows you how to rely on yourself and value your life. It’s the most important thing and yet many people don’t give it enough thought. Life is sometimes hard when so much of it is just the same unfulfilling routine. People need to know what life was meant to be like before we changed it for ourselves by introducing things to make it easier. Cars, airplanes, and cell phones all make things so easy that it is hard to notice and appreciate the power of nature, which leads to the big problem of the world today. People assume we are more powerful than nature, and it isn’t true. Nature is beautiful and strong, and many humans understand that only in a very shallow way. Nature is not there just to provide us with a pretty environment. We are as much a part of nature a we have ever been and the disconnection we are currently facing will eventually come back around and hurt us when we have ruined our environment.

The Dakota Access pipeline that is being built right now is an example. It is more important to us to transport gas across states than it is for us to preserve the water supply. It is more important for us to become more and more commercial than it is for us to stop global warming. It is more important to euthanise bears that are dangerous to us than it is to live and let live. Maybe if everyone was involved in a solo trip as a teen then we would see more value in the world around us. I believe natural skills should be taught in schools, not only as a rare and extremely expensive option for people who know about it and can pay for it.
Even though not everyone enjoys being in nature, necessarily, it is important for more people to experience it. If the only ones who do are the ones who are intrigued enough to seek it out, or whose parents send them there, we may not make much more progress. We are meant to run wild and free and appreciate beauty and know how to collaborate with people and independently work for our survival. Multiple studies from universities like Berkeley and Rochester have shown that time spent in nature is linked to happiness. If we are to connect with nature again and appreciate our environment it is necessary to take risks. They are 100% worth it. Risk always has been essential to life and it always will be. No matter how easy we attempt to make our lives, there will always be some element of risk. It is important to live life as hard as possible. Death is natural and we need to respect it, not fear it. Devastation happens sometimes, but a boring and weak mediocre life is nothing compared to a life with soul satisfying happiness and lows that will bring strength and resilience.