As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to play board games or sports with, so I amassed a pretty impressive collection of stuffed animals and dolls. Although I had a variety of baby dolls, my dad refused to buy me Barbies. For my eighth birthday, he finally caved and got me my very own Star Trek Barbie. She was dressed as the Commander of The Voyager, had her own phaser gun, and even came with a subordinately dressed Ken doll.
My dad didn’t like the message that Barbies send to young girls. He considered them to be vain, vacuous, and placing emphasis on beauty and clothes over traits like intellect and determination. Dad didn’t want me to feel pressured or preoccupied by Barbie’s hyper-femininity, and so he kept it out of my toy chest.
My mother and I used to do a lot of bonding while we were taking walks. We used to occasionally drive from the suburbs up to Mt. Tam or Point Reyes. When we lived in New York we walked through Central Park. When we lived in San Francisco we walked through the Marina Green, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and through Sausalito. We lived in lots of cities and lots of different apartments, constantly exploring, adapting, and always walking.
We often walked to an outlook next to the Golden Gate Bridge. A sign peering over the rocky slope advised to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” We walked there once on a foggy July afternoon. I recall that when we reached the summit, facing the sign and the surrounding California poppies, I told my mom I had read that every human footstep shakes loose thousands of skin cells from the leg. It isn’t possible to “leave only footprints.” We have no choice but to leave skin cells everywhere we walk.
As a writer, the novel matters to me in terms of self-expression. Not everyone can paint with oils or sculpt or play music. For some, the best creative outlet is through words. The novel matters because, as Alice Bloom discusses in “Why the Novel (Still) Matters,” the fictional text makes reality more real. The fiction makes us care about real things, sometimes more so than an article in a newspaper, because fiction makes the story more relatable, more tangible, and more descriptive. Novels have motives attached, in the form of the theme. The theme gives the plot line a depth beyond the series of events of the story.
The sunny 101 highway shoots your car like an arrow straight north through the verdant farmlands. A green sign flashes “Your Hometown, Population: 60,000.” This is your queue to direct your beat-up station wagon to the off-ramp and roll into your home town. New developments have begun to crop up, creeping closer to the freeway. The shiny billboards in front of the construction site show a beaming family of four centered in a comfortably generic living room. The people on the billboard are immortalized in a cookie-cutter vision of Anywhere, USA. This is Your Hometown: a perfect snow-globe of suburbia.
Now the off-ramp has faded away, and you are avoiding Main Street. It is a Tuesday afternoon, and the SUVs stack up in identical congested lines at 3pm, ready to drive the children to their after school soccer practice. You skirt the high school by a distance of a few streets, and in five minutes you have arrived at your destination: the Phoenix Theater. You can feel the polarity between the suburban block and the theater’s boundary as your wheels roll from smooth pavement to the crunching, dusty rocks of the Phoenix’s parking lot. You lock your car and turn the corner to the main entrance.
The tallest men in Europe
are from Montenegro. Also
tall women wearing four-inch
spiked heels. No, I don’t want
to be a tall woman or a tall
man. Too much bending.
Better a student of reaching.
But ahh – glimpsing the willow
revises me completely.
– Tess Gallagher
The primary function of language is communication of ideas. This communication usually occurs between two entities, but is also present in the communication of a person with oneself. What is the effect of language on the conscious thought processes we make? In Tess Gallagher’s poem, the speaker is voicing an inner dialogue in which she is conflicted between two opposite desires; one to be tall and bending, and the other to be a “student of reaching”. Despite the introspective nature of her train of thought, and the absence of an addressee besides herself, she nevertheless uses a spontaneous, phatic sound to indicate to herself that she has arrived at the final conviction that she would like to be tall and bending, like a willow. In this way, the phatic function, which constructs the relationship made by the message, is shown to have not only a role in social interaction, but proves to be a useful tool in analyzing one’s own train of thought.