Sunday, February 15, 2015

Over the Irish Court Pub

All throughout my adult life, I’ve sought out people who can teach me something new about writing. I’ve taken classes and read writing books. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of interviews with fiction writers. However, my most influential experience came out of an Irish pub. A friend had told me about a Writers’ Roundup event at The Old Irish Court in Downtown Lowell. I wasn’t sure what a roundup even meant but I went anyway.
This event was held in the middle of the day in the middle of February. A Writers’ Roundup turned out to be a sales floor. It was writers selling books to other writers, except there wasn’t much selling going on. A few people disinterestedly buzzed about a dimly lit room lined with folding tables and leather-topped stools. Other people formed clicks in the middle of the floor, chatting merrily with dark pints in their hands.
I didn’t know anyone there, so I thought I’d walk around once and then, go home. That didn’t happen. Instead, one of the people in the click broke free. A lean, gray-haired man walked up to me with his hand extended. He gave his name: Dave Daniels, a mystery writer who spoke with local book clubs. I thought he ran the event. No. He was just there, like me.
“Is anything going to happen?” I asked. “Like what?” He asked back and I wasn’t sure. We went silent for a long second and then, I said, “I heard about this from my writing group.” Dave’s face lit up. He asked me what I wrote and his face didn’t dim as I struggled to describe my two unpublished novels. Dave introduced me around and I felt like a writer. I got to shake hands with people who professionally made the things that I wanted to make. I asked other people about their work because it was easier than stammering on about my books.
Dave introduced me to a man who ran a small press out of New Hampshire. There, I gave my first and only on-the-spot novel pitch. Nothing came of it but I was doing the thing that writers did. It felt good and more importantly, it felt real. Before this point, there was a massive gulf between real writers and what I did. Intellectually, I knew that Stephen King and J.K. Rowling weren’t always successful authors but on another level, I thought they were on a different track than me. Dave Daniels was just a guy and his writer friends were just people. This was a powerful notion, even if it was simple.    

Before I left the Roundup, Dave encouraged me to seek out his Popular Fiction class. He said he was teaching at UMass. At the time, I was a 24-year-old college dropout without any plans for the future. I would’ve stayed that way if it wasn’t for that day above a bar. I wanted to take that class and I wanted to be near people who did what I wanted to do, who wrote fiction, poetry, screenplays or even dirty jokes on a bathroom wall. On that day, I knew I wanted to have it all the time. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Shades of Hybridity in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative

 “Towards night I gathered some sticks for my own comfort, that I might not lie a-cold” (Rowlandson P. 125) Rowlandson is more accustomed to a mattress. However, her options are limited amongst the Natives. She can either sleep on the cold dirt in a New England winter, or she can adapt to her new situation.
Rowlandson could not depend upon the aforementioned random acts of kindness, but relished them when they came. Rowlandson recounts a bitterly cold day when she could not find a place by the fire. Though the Natives intended to ransom her, they did not seem highly concerned with her health. Luckily, some took pity on her. Rowlandson writes “…but the squaw laid a skin for me, and bid me sit down, and gave me some ground nuts, and bade me come again…” (Rowlandson P. 14) Here, Rowlandson shows how she, at times, is communal with the Natives, forging relationships, however fleeting.

It is important to emphasize these points due to the above mentioned “Contact Zones.” The Young Englishman dying of a flux is also a captive, but did not fare well in this new world. Part of it was out of the Natives control, but part of it was not. Rowlandson is given a place by the fire, but the young Englishman is left half-clothed and sick in the mud. Hybridity is opened to Rowlandson, but not to the young Englishman. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Shades of Hybridity in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative

 “The first week of my being among them I hardly ate anything; the second week I found my stomach grow very faint for want of something; and yet it was very hard to get down their filthy trash…” (Rowlandson P. 3)
Rowlandson had gone far from her English life and clearly struggled, as illustrated in the passage above. This passage illustrates how Hybridity happens gradually. In the first stage, it is a microscopic war: the flora of her stomach against the foods and drink of her new world.  Biologically speaking, her body might not be able to handle a Native American diet. She would have to make a choice: train her body to live on horse meat and ground nuts or die. In the following passage, she makes her decision:
“… but the third week, though I could think how formerly my stomach would turn against this or that, and I could starve and die before I could eat such things, yet they were sweet and savory to my taste.” (Rowlandson P. 3)
This micro-biotic war is a very real thing and has physical casualties. While Rowlandson manages to train her body, others hadn’t. Rowlandson writes of her encounter with a young Englishman, left sick and filthy, in the road. Rowlandson writes “I asked him how he did? He told me he was very sick of a flux, with eating so much blood.” (Rowlandson P.18) In this passage, it is evident how treacherous hybridity can be in its initial stages. Later on, it becomes apparent that hybridity is essential to Rowlandson.
Throughout this narrative, pain and starvation constantly loom over Rowlandson’s head. The Natives aren’t actively injuring her, but they do lash out if they feel she’s being difficult. They also neglect their captive on a regular basis. This is Rowlandson’s greatest danger in her time among the Natives. Because Rowlandson did not become a casualty to the aforementioned microscopic war, she is able to survive, as illustrated here, “I found six acorns, and two chestnuts, which were some refreshment to me.” (Rowlandson P.125)

Other instances shows how Rowlandson works with the Natives in order to escape pain, and starvation. Throughout this narrative, there are many examples of random kindnesses that fortify Rowlandson’s body as well as her spirit. For example, Rowlandson writes “I asked her to let me boil my piece of bear in her kettle, which she did, and gave me some ground nuts to eat with it…” (Rowlandson P. 13) Here, Rowlandson shows the reader that she has to eat the way they do and later, she’ll sleep the way they do. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shades of Hybridity in Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative

Hybridity happens when two or more cultures collide. This concept was popularized by a man named Homi Bhabha. If you imagine two cultures as circles, one blue and one yellow, Hybridity occurs where they overlap. Equally, that green intersection is a Contact Zone. While a Van Diagram seems sterilized and simple, Contact Zones can be anything but that. A Contact Zone is the physical space where Hybridity happens and cultures clash. Mary Rowlandson is a prime example of these terms. Over the course of eleven weeks, she found herself deep within a contact zone where she struggled to survive.
“On the tenth of February 1675, came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster: their first coming was about sunrising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven,” (Rowlandson P.118)

 This turbulent passage marks the first Contact Zone in Mary Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. The Natives depicted above were reacting with such violence due, partly, to the execution of three tribesmen. However, the English were taking their lands, food was scarce and the English enjoyed bounty brought over from England. To their minds, the English were forcing them to war. To the English mind, the Natives were savages; godless and without culture.