Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Self Reflective Final

For me this class has been part of the greater transformation and learning experience and growth that I have undergone throughout this semester. Being fresh out of high school posed several difficulties and challenges for me. Learning to be responsible, punctual, and adult are a few of the many road blocks that I ran into. Throughout high school I traveled and moved a lot, so I was always cut a little more slack than the rest of the students in my classes because I was perpetually new and adjusting.

This class in particular, with its weekly assignments, relatively faster pace than high school, and significantly stricter deadlines, was one of my first challenges. I've never been one of the people that does their homework regularly and on time. It has helped me learn quite a bit about my own writing abilities, pace, and processes. My greatest difficulty was with the weekly blog assignments and comments, I never remembered to do them, I was too busy doing other things on my weekends, and during the week I was barely managing showing up to class, but eventually I caught on to the fact that they were necessary to my passing the class and got a lot better at doing them.

Throughout the course of the class I learned a significant amount about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, as well as just how I go about writing. Before this semester I have never had to write so much so often and in such a tight time frame. Another difficulty I faced was writing without guidelines as detailed as those that had previously been provided in high school writing classes. I did however adjust, although it may have taken me a little longer than I would have liked.

I learned a lot more about what "good" is. In my opinion, good writing is writing that captures the reader, interests them, educates them, challenges their ideas, and makes them think. Throughout this course I think I have portrayed some good writing and some not so good.

My best writings by far where the observational essay and the rhetorical analysis essay. In those I really made an effort and put my heart into the writing. The observational essay was good writing and also followed the guidelines and expectations of the assignment. But my rhetorical analysis essay was good writing that did not necessarily follow the guidelines of the assignment as much as it could have.

I've found that I put a lot of effort into writing good endings that leave the reader wondering, and make them think about the piece they just read. That is evident in the ending of my rhetorical analysis:

" These videos, these small acts of courage, courage to stand up and demand freedom, freedom of speech, and of expression, provide a world in which Arabs can freely mold, shape, and assert their identities in whatever way they choose, regardless of whether or not they are an accurate indicator of social, cultural, and political change that allows them to do so in the real world. What matters is that they are all small but sure steps in the right direction. Thomas Jefferson said, "Every generation needs a new revolution," if that's the case, this one is about a millennium and a half past due."

One of my weaker points however was writing a strong thesis statement. For the most part the majority of my writings were lacking a distinctive thesis statement all together like in my extra credit write up of the Daniel Alarcon reading and in my observational essay.

I realized that one my greatest strengths by far is writings where I was arguing a point and supporting my opinion like in the sex appeal writing about the Calvin Klein advertisement, Sex Sells No Matter What You're Selling.

In the beginning of the semester when weekly posts had to be 500 words I had a lot more difficulty completing them because I felt it was hard to find 500 words to say about the topics given. The reduction in length really helped with that, I was writing a lot less nonsense and babble.

I had also never written in a blog before, much less blogged for a class, it took quite a bit of getting used to especially with the use of multimedia and hyperlinks. Initially I didn't know what to hyperlink in my text or what pictures or video to use, but eventually I started to enjoy incorporating them in my text. Having our assignments be due online was really a lot of fun because there's so much more you can do when it's online. All in all, this class was a great learning experience, I learned a lot about myself, my learning and that I should really be more open to doing things differently because it could turn out to be better than other ways.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Today's Arab Revolution

One of the most interesting and first of its kind music videos, released in 2002, is that of an extremely popular Lebanese singer by the name of Elissa. Since the launch of her musical career, Elissa has been the first, and one of the few Middle Eastern artists to test the boundaries and push the limits of traditional Arab culture. Through her music and videos, Elissa, among many others, has greatly helped in driving people to pursue and push for the westernization and open-mindedness needed to move forward in today’s world, that is seen and being acquired in several Middle Eastern countries today.

Ellissar Khoury, the Lebanese singer famously known as Elissa, first started her singing career in the early 90’s on a Lebanese talent show called Studio el Fan on Lebanon’s leading television station, LBC. Throughout her career she has sold close to 18 million albums, making close to $31 million in her career, thereby making her one of the most popular Lebanese and Arabic singers in history.

In the music video above of her song “Ayshalak” Elissa, an attractive brunette is involved in a risqué rendezvous in a Parisian hotel. Throughout the video, which follows the story of this forbidden meeting, an illicit relationship is portrayed between her and the male figure featured in it. Most of the filming takes place in the hotel room, at times she’s in the room alone, as if waiting for her man, while the man is also with her there at times. The video is dripping with promiscuity and eroticism, and her outfits are relatively revealing and skimpy. In one scene she’s wearing tiny silky lingerie, and in another she’s lying down moving suggestively as if fantasizing about the man in the video. The camera picks up different perspectives throughout filming jumping from the perspective of an audience member, to that of the man with Elissa staring up and moving erotically, to scenes where she is being filmed performing.

The promiscuity is not only portrayed through the visual aspects of the video, thereby appealing to the audience's pathos, but that sex appeal is also apparent in the lyrics of the song. I realize not too many of you understand Arabic, so I’ve provided a translation of some of those lyrics. They read:

And the gleam of my eye shows
Desire in my heart for you, my dear
And passion that’s been there from the day we met
My dream was to be with you
Even if only one day of my life to spend with you
And dreams upon dreams have I had about you my love
My heart is waiting for you
Come closer to me my dear
My longing for you has grown
Fill me with the world’s desire
I adore you and no matter what I say
My soul will be with you always
My heart is waiting for you
I’m living for you
Come closer to me…

Elissa’s videos establish a new level that needed to be reached in order to legitimately be “extreme” and testing the limits of what is publicly acceptable in Arab culture. Promiscuity, attraction, and seduction are all very much private things that is Arab culture, are only supposed to occur between a man and his wife and behind closed doors; this is greatly due to the instructions in the Koran:

"And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts, and display not their ornaments, except those which are outside; and let them pull their kerchiefs over their bosoms and not display their ornaments save to their husbands and fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or their male attendants who are incapable, or to children who do not note women’s nakedness; and that they beat not with their feet that their hidden ornaments may be known. But all turn repentant to God, O believers! May you prosper." (Koran, Light 24:31 p216)

Now, although the Koran offers guidelines by which Muslims are expected to live their lives, Islam’s prevalence in the Middle East for the past 1400 years has lead to a point where Islamic laws have govern not only Muslims, but people of all other religions residing in the area. This thereby poses the same expectations of conduct from Christians and Muslims alike. So although most of these female artists that display themselves so iconically are indeed Christian Arabs, the social and cultural expectations of modesty are there.

A significantly large portion of female singers are Christian, largely due to the fact that Christian-Arab families tend to be much more liberal and easy going than their Muslim counterparts, thereby allowing more Christian women the chance at the spotlight than Muslim women that are usually governed by more traditional and conservative families that would be much less inclined to allow their daughters the freedom needed to be a pop star.

Although at the time that Elissa’s video was released, her suggestiveness seemed especially daring, even for a Christian singer; this is a trend, increasing exponentially in popularity, becoming almost typical of the now contemporary Middle Eastern music scene. Every year, more female Arab singers emerge presenting themselves as provocative, erotic sex symbols; asserting themselves through their movements, voice, dress, and all over image; some of the most famous and popular of them being Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wahbeh, Dana, Nawal Zoghbi, and numerous others.

The eroticism like that coming from Elissa in her music videos may be all too common and familiar to the westerner’s eye, but in the Middle East, this is a completely different story. What would seem in western culture to be outdated and cliché is exactly what makes these music videos, so gripping to a Middle Eastern audience, it is the notion of something being “forbidden”. Unlike western culture, Middle Eastern culture approaches the forbidden in a much more artistic form. It is part of human nature to long for what one cannot have, and the vastness of things that are forbidden in Arab and Muslim culture only contribute to making them seem all the more appealing.

Ultimately it comes down to that people in the Middle East have been suppressing their attractions, urges and sexuality for so long that Muslim law can no longer rein it. There is a revolution happening, and it’s happening through popular Arabic music. The social and cultural boundaries and norms are being tested, pushed around and trodden on on a daily basis. Remarkable social and cultural changes are just around the corner, and although sex may seem to be the most prominent and striking facet of these little rebellions, it is in fact the least important one of all. Sex is simply the window of opportunity through which people are being presented with the vast possibilities and opportunities that will become available upon people’s demand for and acquisition of the freedom they all deserve. These videos, these small acts of courage, courage to stand up and demand freedom, freedom of speech, and of expression, provide a world in which Arabs can freely mold, shape, and assert their identities in whatever way they choose, regardless of whether or not they are an accurate indicator of social, cultural, and political change that allows them to do so in the real world. What matters is that they are all small but sure steps in the right direction. Thomas Jefferson said, “Every generation needs a new revolution,” if that’s the case, this one is about a millennium and a half past due.

Women of the Revolution. (clockwise, Nancy Ajram, Nawal Zoghbi, and Haifa Wahbeh)

Works Cited:
1. The Koran, translated by Dawood, N. J. Penguin Books Limited, 1985.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jordan... is that in Utah?

I first moved to the US about 4+ years ago. I went straight from Amman, Jordan; a city of about 3 million people, to Cadillac, Michigan, a town in the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan with a population of about 10,000 people. People, for the most part, had no idea there was a country by the name of Jordan, let alone where in earth it is. It was a bit of a culture shock moving from a huge city where things are always happening and there’s almost always something to do, to a tiny little town who’s main attraction is a Super Wal-Mart on the other side of town, a movie theater with 4 theaters, and the lake (but only during the brief summers). People asked me some of the craziest questions like:
“What do they speak in Jordan? Jordanese?”
“Where’s Jordan? You mean East Jordan, MI?”
“Jordan… Is that in Utah?”
“Do you have TVs in Jordan?”
“Do you live in tents like in Laurence of Arabia?”
“Do you ride camels to get around?”
I was in 8th grade at the time and, despite growing up in a foreign country, knew a fair amount about American history as well as the names, locations, and capitals of all 50 states. I was pretty surprised that no one knew where Jordan was, or at least that it was a part of the Middle East, the area of greatest turmoil for the past what? At least 50 years of recent history, but realistically, the turmoil dates back thousands and thousands of years. They were almost all Christian, except for the Schappas, the single non-Christian family in town; they were Jewish. I thought “Don’t they know that Jesus was baptized in the JORDAN river, and that it was near Jerusalem which is in Palestine (Israel, Palestine, whatever you choose to call it, it’s all one big mess in reality), which is on the west side of the JORDAN river bank, opposite (oh my gosh!) Jordan the COUNTRY.
So my point being, junior high, in a town like that, for a person like me, was two long years of hell. Point two being, US public schools REALLY need better geography classes.


Missing my sweet sweet lover
But he's right there
Sitting in my pocket
Warmly snuggled with his spark

He's right there
Right within my reach
I want him
But I don't
I love him
And I hate him
I crave
Yet despise him

Within me he ignites a small temporary light
At the expense of the eternal flame in my soul
He weighs heavily on my chest
Grounded deep in my heart

He constricts me
Holding me back
Chaining me down
I am his prisoner

He resides in my core for all eternity.

He's always there for me
My shoulder to cry on
My angry release
He loves me for me
No strings attached
No matter what

My longing
My craving
My yearning
My desire

Its all for him
Only him
I am loyal to him
I am exclusive
I obey him religiously
I answer his every call
And I meet his every need

I could never betray him for another
But no other could ever live up to him anyway

He goes perfectly with anything
Every time is his time

Every place is his place

He lifts me up
He brings me down
He masks my soul
And distorts my being

He tortures me
He comforts me

I am a victim of his manipulation

I squirm
I struggle
I itch to evade him
Beneath my skin
I can feel it

I need him

I need him

From the first touch
I am relieved
I fall
All over again
Every time
And deeper
Into a state of dependence

That last touch comes along
It is dreaded.
That wretched last touch
Damn it
Its so inevitable

A dark feeling sets over me
Submerging me in a tenebrous sea
I am full of regret
At myself
And my submission.

I hate myself for loving him
I hate myself for needing him
I hate myself for falling so


From the first taste
The moment I first brought my lips to his
That instant they interlocked
He had me
But I feel he always has

He is my life partner
My loyal lover

My silent slayer

Damn him.

Poetry Reading at the Dikeou Collection

On Thursday, April 12th 2007, Copper Nickel hosted Jake Adam York, a professor of English at University of Colorado at Denver, reading poetry at the Dikeou Collection downtown along with two of his former students Mary McHugh and Roxanne Banks. Roxanne Banks is currently an English teacher at Littleton High School in Littleton, CO, a suburb south of Denver, and Mary McHugh is currently a student at University of Colorado at Denver.
Mary McHugh was the first to read, she walked up to the podium timidly after Jake Adam York introduced her. She giggled nervously saying, “Wow, I have a lot to live up to with that introduction. She read several poems including a poem about the poet Andy Goldsworthy, a poem called Octopus; inspired by Marianne Moore, a poem called Pompeii and a poem called Radioactive Water. Jake Adam York compared her poetry to that of Marianne Moore, scientific and logical in manner. She was wearing a black cardigan, knee length skirt and knee high socks with clunky Mary Jane shoes. She seemed a bit nervous; slightly rushed, voice unstable and wavering.
Roxanne Banks on the other hand, a teacher at my high school, was far more eloquent and confident speaking in front of people. She stepped up to the podium and almost immediately cracked a joke. She mentioned an electronic sign outside of a Walgreen’s pharmacy, it read, “Vienna Sausage Armor… $6.75” and talked about how wonderful it would be to have armor made out of Vienna sausage. Her most recent works have been eulogies, mostly to fictional characters. The first poem she read, An Eulogy for a Prairie Dog, she said was a poem she probably should have written about years ago when she first witnessed the events in it. She had very steady rhythm, as well as great structure and imagery. Her second poem, called And Now, was about a beetle, the main character of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Her third, I Tried to Kill Her But… a “fractured fairytale”. Her fourth, Your Educational Rights, about a high school student with an unhealthy obsession with his teacher. And finally a poem about Meursault, the estranged character of Albert Camus’s book, The Stranger (L’Étranger).

I was able to stay long enough to hear two of Jake Adam York’s poems, they were both about unfairly solved murders that happens several decades ago. I noticed he had a great stance and confidence. He used his voice very well, he had great projection and made great use of accents in reading his poetry. It was definitely interesting to hear each of the three poets read their own work because it makes a big difference as to the way they read them and the understanding extracted from them. Had I been reading the poetry they wrote it probably would have been very different, having breaks and stops at different points, making a huge difference in the meaning behind the words.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Watch Before You Eat

So I visited the Downtown Denver Aquarium with one of my friends last week. I felt like such a kid, it was great! I loved it, I had so much fun that I felt a bit ridiculous. I got all excited when I saw just about every single fish in there. I’m really pretty surprised my friend didn’t punch me in the face at all; I was like an extremely over-grown three year-old. “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE JELLY FISH!” and once we saw the clown fish, “Look! They found Nemo!” and “OH MY GOD! What if the shark eats the little fishies? They need protection!!”
So it was pretty much awesome, an escape much needed from my insane week.
What I found most interesting about my Downtown Denver Aquarium experience was the restaurant located at the end of the tour of the Downtown Denver Aquarium. It seemed a bit odd to me to spend an hour admiring hundreds of beautiful kinds of fish then walking into a restaurant to eat some fish. Not to mention the fact that the restaurant was lined with a huge aquarium covering the entire left wall. I think I made a wise decision, I ordered a salad. I did not want any angry little fishies breaking through that aquarium going for my throat.
I mean I’m still struggling with being ok with eating meat, let alone eating a fish, in front of a fish. Sure sure, fish have puny little brains and don’t know the difference anyway, but it seems a bit odd, and made me extremely uncomfortable. I’m really wondering if I’m the first person to notice anything odd about watching them before you eat them. I sure hope not.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Daniel Alarcon

I walked into the recital hall of the King Center not knowing quite what to expect. I had never been to a book reading, or any other type of reading at that. There were a couple of people from the English department that spoke, introducing Daniel Alarcon before he actually came on stage to read from his newest book; Lost City Radio. They pointed out how great of a writer he was, how his book was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, that he received the award for being one of the British journal Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and the fact that he received the Whiting award in 2004. In Addition he is the Associate Editor for an award-winning monthly magazine, Etiqueta Negra, based in Lima, Peru.
Once they were done with their thanks and introductions, the audience applauded and he got up and walked up to the stage. I was relatively surprised, his hair was pretty big, almost a fro actually, looking as if he had been electrocuted, or maybe had just rolled out of bed, I couldn’t do anything but stare at it for a few minutes. He looked very casual, but not really the laid-back kind of casual, more like a half-assed casual attempt at looking more formal. He was wearing slightly worn-out black Chuck Taylors, and his jeans were tearing a little where they rub against the ground. He was wearing a bright red T-shirt with a hint of obnoxiously bright yellow text peeking out from underneath the orange shirt he was wearing on top. He pulled it all together with a navy blue blazer and a silver band on his pinky. Although it was hard, I did snap myself out of my hypnosis in time to hear him introduce his novel, giving a short background summary and explaining the first portion he was planning to read.
He started reading, a bit awkward and monotonous, but the words he was reading were great. The story of a female radio host and her husband, trying to make it through a city going to shambles, sleep in a bar because it’s unsafe to go home captured me. It was interesting and grasping, and his words were sewn together so gracefully it was amazing.
The second portion that he read was further on in the book as well as in the future. At that point, the radio host, Norma, has lost her husband in the jungle. He studied plants and had gone there to study the natural medicines that people used in the jungle’s villages and had never returned. There were rumors that he had joined the Illegitimate Legion, the rebel group that had by then been defeated. On her radio show, Norma often read off lists of names of people gone missing, lost to the nameless south American city, in an attempt to reunite them with their families. A boy came to the station with a list of names of missing people from his village, and her husband’s name was on the list. Here begins Norma’s search for her husband where the war is over and people are trying to pick up the pieces. It is the first clue to solving the mystery.
The story sounded so great that I bought the book and am actually almost finished with it. Daniel Alarcon is indeed one of the great young American novelists, he combines his Peruvian background with his American one in an attempt to bridge the gaps and open people’s eyes to the differences and wonderful things that Peruvian culture has to offer the world. I think he is an amazing asset to both this country and the world as a whole.