I’m Legal!… but for what?

December 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

I turned 18 this week, on Wednesday to be exact.  As the day apporached my mom told me to do something “special,  or else I would regret it later.”  It sounded more like a threat than kind words of advice, but even still I went off in search of that something special to commemorate my transition into adulthood.

First I turned to my friends for advice. The obvious response was “go vote!” but that begged the question “In what election?”  Here are the other suggestions I received:

“Throw a rager

“Go to a hookah bar

“Gamble”

“buy cigarettes”

They may seem like classic teenage responses.  You can laugh it off, think they’re just teens… trying to rebel… being “hooligans” (as my mom calls me).  But think about it… what else can you do when your 18?  Thinking that entering into adulthood must give me some kind of privilege I actually wanted to take advantage of I changed tactics.

I moved to the internet, the new source of “knowledge” and the automatic solution for any unsolved question. Upon typing “18th birthday” into google search I received 4,410,000 results (in .13 seconds no less).  The first website was a selection of “18th birthday quotes” sure to make you feel crappy about your past and wary of your future.  (ex: “You are only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime.”  OR “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”)

It gave me a very dismal look at becoming 18.  It seemed like just another continuation of the “rebellious” teen years but now I can waste money on life killing products, or card games.

I don’t have a perfect relationship with my parents, but at least I have one.  We talk, debate, and have lively conversation.  No, they don’t know every detail of my life but I don’t know every detail about theirs and I’m fine having it that way.

Nothing bugs me more than then Kaiser commercial which claims that teens will not say a word to their parents after the age of 13  “and when they do it will likely involve disagreeing at large volumes.” Well that’s a self fulfilling prophecy.  I mean honestly who would want to converse with someone who treats them like an immature mutineer?

Teens have it hard.  One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten came from a history teacher.  He reminded us (oh so kindly) that up until high school each year makes you smarter, after that you have to do it yourself.  This is a hard transition to go throw, and it applies not only to the academics but to personality and morals as well.  It forces teens to look at themselves and try to develop themselves by conscious effort.  I think they rebel, not just to rebel, but so that they can see what part of them is really them and what part is the influence of others.  They are trying to see what works for them.

Coming of Age is Overcoming a Challenge?

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Continuously, authors and screen writers depict coming of age as overcoming some sort of large life challenge, maturing and becoming stronger. This loss of innocence coupled with gaining responsibility forces characters to grew up suddenly.

In Call of the Wild by Jack London, Buck gets unwillingly taken from his family, beaten into submission and forced to become a sled dog in alaska. He goes from leading a life of ease in Santa Clara to a rough and uncivilized life up north. Although his situation went from good to terrible, Buck is able to overcome this loss of his original life and excel at his new life. By making the best of his uncontrollable situation, Buck not only matures but also gains power and responsibility as the head sled dog.

Similarly, In the Lion King, Simba accidentally gets his father killed by a stampede of wildebeasts. At first, he is ashamed and depressed at this loss so he retreats from his previously life and responsibility; however, when his evil uncle Scar abuses his power to the point of threatening the existence of the pride, Simba returns to take back what he left behind. He has to overcome the challenge of accepting his fathers loss and defeating his uncle. In doing this, Simba is regaining his title as king.

Lastly, In Bambi, Bambi loses his mother at a young age when he is still dependent on her. This forces him to grow up quickly in order to fend for himself and his mate. Rather than dwelling, Bambi accepts his loss and his sudden increase in responsibility.

These three coming of age tale all revolve around an essential challenge or hardship in each characters life. As someone who has led a pretty eventless life, it makes me wonder if in fact my great coming of age will ever happen? Or, did it happen slowly with out me realizing? These texts make me feel like you have to have a significant loss in order for you to ever truly come of age. Is it possible to come of age without any major struggles through your life?

Do We Get More Civilized as We Age?

October 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is often said that children are uncivilized. They run about, not sharing, not caring and doing what ever they want to. They are called wild. But is it wild in the sense that they are uncivilized. I would argue yes.

What characterizes a civilized person? Compassion? Empathy? Although children can have strong emotions, their emotions are primarily self centered. They havent experienced enough to understand and therefore empathize with what others are going through. Children are innocent. The lack of events in their lives have not taught them compassion or how to feel bad for others. As a child i only thought of myself, never about the impact i had one others. Putting myself in someone else’s situation was impossible to do.

As we grow up we are thought to mature and become civilized. We go from eating with our hands to using silverware. From feeling little for others to always thinking about peoples problems. However, at the same time when we become what is defined as a civilized adult at the age of 18, we can join the army and partake in the most primal act of killing another human.

In Call of the Wild, Buck goes from his civil life in Santa Clara to a primal life in Alaska. In some aspects, Buck becomes more civilized as he ages. He discovers true love for Thorton, an emotion that only humans are thought to possess. However, after Thortons death, Buck relinquishes his attachment to civilized society and discovers his primal self, reconnecting with with his ancestors. This suggests that although we age and try to cover up our primality by fitting into civilized society ultimately as we age we still connect to primality. So then what exactly defines coming of age?

The Sounding of the Call

October 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

I remember the first time I read “Call of the Wild”. I was about 10 years old and it was part of a very extensive Jack London unit at my elementary school. Like Buck I spent my childhood in the lap of luxury. Just as “there were no other dogs” on the Miller property, I was an only child which likely contributed to my carefree upbringing (London 3).  It was interesting for me to reread the book and see how my own adolescence changed my interpretation of London’s classic coming of age story.

As Buck grows and evolves as a character he learns who he really is and gets in touch with his canine nature. I really connected to Buck and drew upon my own experiences growing up when reading “Call of the Wild”. I feel that Buck’s journey shows that coming of age has less to do with age and more to do with finding your true colors.

We all begin our lives somewhat  like domesticated dogs.  We are shaped and trained to be what our “masters” want us to be but through time and the challenges that accompany it we begin to shape our own opinions and get in touch with our own “dominant primordial beasts”. My mother always says that challenges help to shape us into who we are. This could not be more true for Buck. Coming into oneself is a gradual and often private process. Only through attempting to overcome obstacles does Buck truly get in touch with his wild side. Under the rough conditions of his new life, Buck continues to figure out who he really is. “The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of the trail life ir grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth”(London 15).

In addition to hardships Buck also faces new responsibilities. During his transformation Buck must bring in money for John. Having responsibilities is a trying but necessary  part of learning to be an adult.

When I read “Call of the Wild” all those years ago I viewed coming of age as a mere period of time in one’s life. I feel that coming of age is a process and it has many aspects to it but a crucial part of coming of age is recognizing who you are deep down. Some of us are lucky enough to figure this out in our teens but for most coming of age (at least in this sense) does not occur until much later.

The Greatest Coming of Age Story Ever

October 8, 2010 § 1 Comment

Quick disclaimer: I’m outright stealing the general idea for this blog post from Brian Dowle‘s “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever”, but then again imitation is the highest form of flattery. I’m Sure Brian Dowle is feeling extremely honored right now.

I was torn between two blog post ideas, especially since I didn’t want to shoot this particular bullet so soon. I’m not promising that in a later post I will redo the same thing as this one.

Just so everyone is clear, I am not specifically talking about CoW in this post (the main stories in my mind right now are Star Wars, Eragon, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings). I’m dealing with the classical “Coming of Age” story, of which I will do a probably poor job of characterizing it. Oh, and a side note: yes, this is made of terrible, terrible, terrible run-on sentences, but hte writing style is molded the same way as the essay. I swear my paragraphs are usually broken up into sentences.

Alright, are you ready? Here we go!

The Greatest Coming of Age Story Ever

…. would begin with some timeless image of the stereotypical youth, one we can all associate with mind you, such as the young farmboy looking longingly up at the stars, or the lonely neglected child who has spent his entire life feeling inadequate and good for nothing, the mental image so clear and vivid that you swear to yourself that it happened to you, even if you lived a wonderful sheltered life nothing like the main character’s, but that is not the point, see, because it could have been you, and even though it wasn’t you you can not help but empathize with the main character, to the point where you feel you share a special connection that only you know of, because when it comes down to it you could have been the same, you were the same, you are the same, and now you are utterly hooked and dead to the world.

The next few chapters would build the character up, explain his background and the secret longings of his heart, even though you tell yourself you already knew them, because you were like them, no you still are like them, by the end of this trip of your self-discovery of the fictional character’s life and mind, you know his heart and soul inside and out and all of their problems are yours, and you feel the same longings that they feel, and it subconsciously occurs to you just how utterly you are one with the story, and how books are such vital parts of your life, and how you need to read more, never mind the time and your schedule and your own life because now you have another one that is so vibrant and real and you can’t put down the book, you are now settled as firmly into their life as you were in yours.

And now that you utterly understand the character and you know their heart and soul, and every detail of their life, and nothing will ever change, the world turns on its head and everything is different and what happened to the peaceful and quiet life the character had before, now something strange or wonderful or terrible has happened, you don’t understand, where has the tranquility gone, now you have a huge burden to bear, all your life you wanted  to find adventure and excitement, but it wasn’t supposed to find you, and this is not what you wanted, and you say you can’t, you can’t do it, but there is no going back.

You try to run and you try to hide, but the stark reality of it comes again and again and again to whack you in the face, until you lie utterly broken and spent, then you see there is a little part of you that you could have sworn wasn’t there before, because you knew everything about you, didn’t you?, slowly you listen to the little voice inside, the little piece of you that you didn’t know was you, the piece says, I can do it, I can, I am strong enough, and you slowly pick yourself off of the ground as you pick up the heavy burden, the burden which somehow feels lighter now, and you take your first, terrible, agonizing step with it, and a feeling of wonder radiates you as you realize that maybe you can do it, because there are hidden depths in you, and slowly, slowly, you take the next step on the long road.

You, the hero, because you are a hero, you are still carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, as you take every step, as you make all of those terrible choices when the path forks, you find companions along the way, maybe they stay or maybe they leave, but now you are walking together, and although you each have to carry your own load no one said anything about helping the others carry theirs, so you all find that you have strength to make it a little easier on your friends, and nothing has changed but somehow everyone’s load is lighter because everyone is carrying a little more, and it doesn’t make sense, but as you triumph over each obstacle you realize that it does make sense, but sense that comes from the heart not the mind, and oh god you are here.

The final challenge. The steepest hill possible, the strongest foe imaginable, because this is the thing you set out to do all those years ago, but it isn’t, because now you realize that along the way you learned that there is stuff far more important than what you first thought was paramount, and now you fall, you fall to the ground just like in the beginning because you realize you can’t do it, it is too hard and you are so tired, you are defeated utterly, and the little piece of you is spent in getting you so far, so very far and all for nothing, but now you feel arms lifting you, and you don’t understand, and then you see your friends, all of them straining with all of their might to help you get up, and now you realize that even though you can’t do it, you can’t let your friends down, because they are here for you.

And you are off, with no hope left in your heart and the goodbyes you told your friends feel like your last words, because you are now utterly alone, the challenge is one only you can face, and all your friends watch you with hopeful, trusting eyes as you crawl up the mountain, so you can face the final test, the test you know you are going to fail, but you crawl and crawl, and then you are facing it, him, you, and you can’t do it. You fail, and are defeated just like you knew you would be. You lie torn and broken, aching from walking a thousand miles with the weight of an entire world on your back, all for this, this one , last, insurmountable challenge.

And you can’t take the last step.

You can’t do it alone.

It is too hard.

And you are too tired.

And it was all for naught.

And as you lie in the dirt, as you cling to the edge, as the last of your strength is leaving you, as you give up the last remnants of a hope you didn’t even know you had, you are utterly bereft, you are stripped down to your very soul, and in the heart of You, you find that last, tiny spark. So small, and so dim, but so very, very beautiful because you are seeing you at last, with no place left to run and your last refuge gone you have turned within, and within you find that last spark, and as you look closely you see the spark is made of I can, and when you look within you find the reasons why you can, because this is about more than just you, this is for everyone, and as you remember them, your friends, you family your people your companions all the people out there that you don’t you but who are relying on you, the strangers of the mind but not the heart, you fear the spark grow and your heart is tinder and your very soul is on fire, and the strength ROARS back through you, because it is not just you anymore, it is everyone, and now you leap to your feet and proudly, with your head held high, take the very last step. And it is over, and the story is leaving you, and you realize you are cheering, but why are you cheering yourself?, but it isn’t you, and you remember where you are and that it was just a story, but it was so real. So real. And it dawns on you that maybe it doesn’t matter that it was only a story, and as you read those final words, the last words in the story that you read, that you lived, you feel it.

Just a hint of something lost, but not gone.

When the fire the ignited your-soul-that-was-not-your-soul left you, it didn’t totally go away.

A little speck of it remained, deep down within your soul.

Almost invisible. Such a tiny thing.

Just a spark.

Slowly Moving Up In Line

October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

The way I see it, coming of age simply represents a progression of maturity  and knowledge until you have a concrete purpose and direction in which you can base your future on. According to my definition, on the surface, Call of the Wild doesn’t really apply. At least not until you focus on the simple idea of dog sledding. When a dog, such as Buck, starts off in his lineup on the dog sled, they aren’t put at the head of the line. Instead, they must learn, through trial and error, how the concept of mushing works and how to work with the other dogs as well as complying with the musher. This may seem a tad cheesy but you could compare this process to a child growing up. A child starts off in school where they are not sure how to act or if what they are doing is right, but over time, they get better at what they are doing by interacting with others and following the lead of their parents and teachers. As time passes and both children and dogs learn what their role is, they move up, whether it be in grade level or a buckle closer to lead dog until eventually, they reach the point in time where they have achieved their coming of age.This point is eventually reached by Buck, as he fights for his rightful position as lead dog where he would lead the rest of the dogs, and have greater over control of not only himself and his direction in life, but others as well. Although there are always forces beyond your control that you can’t ignore, such as a musher, that may guide a person’s path through life, once someone has reached the end of their coming of age they will hopefully have enough control over their lives to steer their own path. But then again, maybe we never truly reach an end to our coming of age since, as humans, we are always progressing and learning more things that ultimately effect who we are and who we become.

Da Call of Da Wild: How Buck copes in Da Hood (including cute puppy photo)

October 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

If you are here because the title made your jaw drop then my underhand ploy succeeded. I fear that my post does not actually have anything to do with the title, so to appease my tricked viewers here is an unrelated photo of a puppy with a peg leg:

Alright, now that that’s out of way onto business. If you want to skip straight to the juicy bits, go ahead and read from after the ****

In my frank opinion, The Call of the Wild is an awesome story. The first sentence “Buck did not read the newspapers” is pretty awesome considering you are talking about a dog. Sadly, this post is not a review of the book but instead an analysis/reflection of how CotW connects to everything else via a coming of age story (or something like that).

CotW is a fantastic bildungsroman, but it is also more than that. It is a story of evolution of the self, or de-evolution, or re-evolution depending on how you look at it (or me-evolution, for personal evolutionJ).  Our not-so-tame Ghost Dog starts his pampered life in the midst of civilization, and then proceeds to steadily shed his civilized layers until the howling core of his wolf origins dominates his existence.

This epic tale reminded me subliminally of another epic story, that of The Odyssey, a rather strange connection. Sadly, I cannot remember much of The Odyssey, but specifics aside the long journey of discovering more about oneself seems to ring true in both. Of course, I could be just woofin’ since my memory is pretty hazy.

Alright, that was a pretty weak example (it gets better, I promise). I’m handicapped because what I really want to talk about is how CotW (totally) relates to our classroom discussions, but that’s what the next post is on. Stay tuned viewers, next time on ‘Mad Ramblings of the Easily Distracted’ we will discuss some especially juicy connections to our survival discussions and probably go on strange, extended tangents.

I’m ditching the connections part, I’m not getting any ringing bells. On to reflection!

**********

The short story “The Call of the Wild” draws its strength and lasting power from the connection we feel with the main character Buck. It is extraordinary how deeply Jack London gets us to identify with the wolfhound in just 75 pages. And yet even more extraordinary is the influence the story exerts over us (or at least me). The story, when considered at a distance, is one that should terrify us. It is a tale of how the primordial beast lurks within all of us (connection to my paper there), and a story of how quickly morals and kindness get tossed out the window when push comes to shove. If you look at just the beginning and end of the book you will see a lovable dog who lets grandchildren ride on his back is enjoying himself immensely while ripping out human throats. With us cheering him along. So how does Jack London do it?

The answer my friends, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind. Can’t you hear it? Maybe it is just those pesky Voices at it again. Oh well. Anyway, the answer is Continuity. As we follow Buck along his path, we see that at each turn he makes a perfectly sound choice that nonetheless transforms him into a person/dog a little different from who he was before. When he learns that you die if you try to fight fairly or with honor, he is making the decision to go for the kill whenever possible.  “So that was the way.” [thought Buck] No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that he never went down.”(13) And he does. He proceeds, step by step, through lessons learned by toil and by blood (his fight with Spitz on page 30), to become the baddest dog/wolf/4-legged monster to ever walk the northern wastes. He kills many dogs, wolves, moose, and even a grizzly bear. Oh, and a few humans too.

So the question is: Is the Buck that played with the children still alive? Or did he die bit by bit as Buck was forced to learn hard lessons in order to survive. Alright, I went there. Classroom discussion seeped in there. But the question remains. Is the Call of the Wild a story about a dog’s rediscovery of his origins? A tale of finding the strength within? A bildungsroman of growing up and becoming worthy of leadership?

Or is it a tale of the slow death of a dog, and the newborn wolf who took his place?

I don’t know. If you do, then please tell the world. There are families out there wondering if the man who came back from the war is really the same person who went in.

However, if you just have an opinion or a point to make, please do post. This is a fascinating discussion, so why don’t we see if we can hash out some of the philosophical details?

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