Friday, August 30, 2013

Bad Selfies on Vacation

This past June, my family took "The Last Great Family Vacation." That's what I called it anyway, mostly in jest, since our son would be starting college at the end of the summer and may not ever go on vacation with us again. Since it was "The Last Great," we made it a big one--two weeks on the road, with Yosemite National Park as our ultimate destination before we started back home. However, since it was the first trip into California, we hit all the major spots along the way, both on the way west and on the way back home.

I've had a sort of running joke with my Communication students. When we talk about symbols in Intro to Rhetoric class, I use my vacation experience as a way to explain indexicality. Every time the family goes on vacation, I tell the students, I have someone in the family take one picture of me to prove I was actually on the trip. The rest of the time, I'm behind the camera, being the "journalist" of the vacation.

One of our first real stops on this summer's trip was at El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. I love the pool of water at the monument--it is the first good source of water pioneers had as they were crossing the desert, and a number of them left their names carved into the relatively soft stone of the huge mountain above the pool. It's just a cool place, and I decided to take my one picture there. Except everyone else in the family had already moved on. I didn't want to call them back just to take a picture of me. Hey, everyone is taking selfies these days, right? So I took a selfie in front of the pool.

It was awful. I think I cut off the top of my head or something. So I deleted it and took off to catch up with the rest of the family.

At some point riding through the desert, though, I came up with what I thought was a great idea. What if having a bad selfie was the point? That it didn't matter what the "selfie" part looked like as long as the attraction showed up well in the picture. It would still act as an index proving I was on the trip, and it might be kind of funny to see how bad my selfies could be.

So I started taking bad selfies at every stop. My daughter finally started helping me line them up so the attraction looked good and I wouldn't have to take a dozen pictures to get the best of the bad. It was fun to document the trip this way. Usually I hate being in pictures, but who cares what I looked like in these? They were supposed to be bad, anyway!

I've been meaning all summer to share a travelogue of our trip through an exhibit of bad selfies. Now that we are at the "official" end of summer, Labor Day, I present.....


I wish I had thought of doing this before we visited the Grand Canyon, but my first bad selfie was at the Hoover Dam. Not a bad place to start, I guess.

This picture doesn't begin to capture the awesomeness of the Trail of 100 Giants in the Sequoia National Forest.

First view of the Pacific Ocean at Sunset State Beach near Watsonville, CA. There were a lot of clouds that evening, which I suppose "ruined" the sunset, but which I thought made for some rather dramatic pictures.

San Francisco was cool. We were there for only an afternoon, so we went to Fisherman's Wharf.

Of course, we took a ride on the cable cars. It was a really memorable experience - I didn't realize the cable cars share the streets with regular traffic, ha ha.

Well, the computer won't let me upload any more pictures for some reason, so I'll have to continue tomorrow.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is This a Great First Line or What?

Friday night after the matriculation ceremony at my school, I met my husband and daughter at a restaurant for dinner. The whole time, my daughter hardly said two words because she had her nose buried in a book, which turned out to be A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz. She finished it today and was raving about it, and since I was between books, I asked if she could keep it out of the school library long enough for me to read it too.

I started it tonight, and I was hooked from the first line.

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

What masterful technique! This sentence foreshadows what's going to happen, hints at backstory, introduces the protagonist, and gives us an idea of her personality. Plus, it makes me so curious I must read on.

Ah, but therein lies the problem! This is really not a good time for a book that grabs me by the imagination and won't let go......I should be writing syllabi......

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What a Contrast!

I've finished two books within the past week, which is kind of unusual. I guess I'm procrastinating on putting together the syllabi for my classes (yes, school starts again on Tuesday, sniff, sniff). The first book, 10 Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, is one I've had on my to-read list for quite a while after finding it during a browsing session on Amazon; the other, Love Comes Softly by Jannette Oke, is an ebook I checked out of the local library when I was trying to figure out how to check out books with my Kindle app. Both of them lean heavily on romantic elements, but that's about where the similarities end.

I have to admit, of the two, I much preferred 10 Cents a Dance. Much. It's the story of a half-Polish, half-Irish girl living in Chicago at the verge of World War II. Ruby's widowed mother is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and so can no longer work to support the family. That means Ruby has to drop out of high school and work in the local meat-packing factory, which she hates, of course. But Ruby loves to dance, and when someone tells her she could make a lot of money at the Starlight "dance academy," she quits her day job and begins working at night as a taxi dancer for a nickel a dance and tips. (That's the only thing that bugged me - why is the book called 10 Cents a Dance when Ruby's salary was 5 cents a dance??? But anyway....)

The problem is, there's no way Ruby's strict Irish Catholic mother is going to go for her daughter working as a taxi dancer, which most people viewed as one step away from prostitution. So Ruby concocts a web of lies that her mother doesn't try too hard to pierce through, especially once Ruby is bringing in enough money to buy groceries and winter coats AND pay off the back rent.

This story was challenging. Some unpleasant things happen to Ruby, not the least of which is (SPOILER!) being beat up by her boyfriend. There's portrayal of racism and interracial relationships. There's the struggle Ruby faces between going far enough to get good tips and crossing the line into going too far. And all the way through, there is the tension of whether Ruby's lies will be found out and what the cost of those lies will be to her family. It's the kind of book that had me thinking about it for a good couple of days after I finished.

Love Comes Softly....well, granted, it's a different genre, Christian fiction, so Marty, the heroine, doesn't deal with life the same way Ruby does. Marty was on her way out West with her husband when he is killed in an accident, leaving her alone and pregnant. A local man who helped with the burial comes to Marty and makes a very forward proposition - his wife has died recently and he needs a mother for his young daughter. If Marty will marry him and be that mother, he will provide a home and food for her, with no expectation that she will be a "real" wife to him. Not having a lot of choice in a land of strangers, Marty agrees.

The remainder of the book shows how "Love Comes Softly" to overtake Marty, healing her loss and giving her a chance at a good life with a happy family and a loving husband. It's a sweet story.

So why do I much prefer the challenging story?