All posts by just a girl in this world

I Don’t Know Sartre–– Does Life Really Begin on the Other Side of Despair?

I think a lot. Right hand raised, I am a chronic overthinker. & sometimes my emotions literally consume me. Paralyze me. Compounds my guilt or worries or doubts like a never ending game of Tetris.

But that doesn’t matter.

Everyone over thinks, and I am not unique in feeling this way. I am not unique in feeling the gnawing anxiety that blooms when I think about the future, of what I want to do, who I want to be. I’m not even unique in feeling I am simultaneously doing the best I can while also feeling I am failing in nearly every aspect of my life. 

Some days I can push that all aside though– all the self-doubt, disappointment in myself, in other people– and just live and trust in life, in the universe. & other days it feels like there’s an ocean in my chest, pushing against my ribs and making my entire body feel heavy. 

And sometimes I wish I could just collapse within myself and silently drown in that sea of feeling or go into hibernation until it dries up and can no longer consume me. Sometimes I wish I could bury myself beneath a garden and grow into the orchids my mom loves and waters every day. & sometimes I wish I could evaporate into mist and become the clouds that change their shape with the wind. That would feel like a more productive use of my body.

Let me stop here for a moment. I am not suicidal. This is not a cry for help. 

I think we’ve been taught to fear negative emotions, hard things, intangible mental challenges like worry and anxiety and overthinking, & we believe something is wrong with us when we feel these things. So we fear being authentic with our feelings–– with others, but mostly with ourselves.

But I don’t believe our less desirable emotions define us. Negative emotions don’t need to exist in opposition with forward action, progress, or growth–– with movement. I think, a lot of times, they exist hand in hand. 

& I think we can still be sad, or anxious, emotionally paralyzed, or consumed with worry and still be our best, do our best. I think contrasting emotions naturally live and exist together at the same time, more often than we wish them to. And I think that’s exactly where I am at this time in my life. I don’t really believe anything defines me, us, more than our own actions despite our feelings, whether positive or negative. 

So no, Sartre. 

I don’t believe life begins on the other side of despair. I think life begins in the midst of despair. I think life begins despite that despair & I think the best of us are still trying to figure that out. 

“Life begins on the other side of despair”

Jean- Paul Sartre

There is no reality except in action.

Jean- Paul Sartre

I’m Insecure

When I was in third grade, I got into a fight with a boy named Johnathan. He was a total dick. He’d always pick fights with me. Tell me I was ugly. Hog the swing forever and I’d tell the teacher and get him in trouble.

Anyways, one day we were really going at it and he called me dumb. It hit my fragile third grade ego and I responded by telling him that his mother, who died when he was a lot younger, was “probably looking down on him disappointed.” And you know what he said? 

He said, “I know.”

I know. 

Not a condescending I know or an I don’t care I know. It was an ‘I’m sad’ I know.

I don’t remember much about elementary. I remember little snapshots of sharing Hi-Chews, trading chocolate gold coins for dollars, red fists from playing tetherball too long, and coloring only with pink. Vignettes of childhood. Yet, that memory always stays with me. Maybe every detail in my mind may not be absolutely accurate, but the feeling that I felt in that moment–– I will never forget it. I felt like the worst person in the world. 

I got home that day and cried. 

I felt like I disappointed my parents who always taught me to be kind to others; that I disappointed my teachers who often took my side, even if I was wrong, even if I lied, because I was a teacher’s pet; that I disappointed myself who wanted to be the best I could be; and that I even disappointed my ancestors for no other reason than I’m dramatic. 

I wasn’t cognizant of it then, but this year, facing my insecurities forced me to look at how insecurity is often derived from our innermost, irrational feelings of inadequacies but can metastasis in ugly and subtle ways, ways that hurt others. That day, I hurt someone because he made me feel less than I was but who likely only acted that way because he also felt less than he actually was. 

I was 8 then. I’m 24 now. And I wish I could say I have no more insecurities or that I’ve learned to be better at hiding or dealing with them. But I still suck my stomach in when I wear tight dresses. I’m still careful with what I share on social media because I haven’t learned to live without other’s validations yet. I still hide my thumbs because when I get anxious, I pick at the skin there. I still cry at night when I feel ugly, or stupid, or unskilled. I still think my cheeks are too “fat,” my eyes too small, my fingers too stubby. And when someone hurts me, I still want to hurt them back. Like 16 years ago. Like that day on the swing set.

I’ll probably never see Johnathan again and I don’t know if any of the thousands of heartfelt apologies I’ve came up with over the years would mean anything to him. He might have even completely forgotten about that moment.

But if I could go back in time, I would hope to find myself in that same moment. I would let him have the shaded swing set and content myself with the metal slide that literally burned my ass because it was always under the sun. 

And if I could go forward in time, I would simply hope to have found myself.

The First Time I Fell In Love

The first time I fell in love, it was with my best friend. He was kind and smart and I was 16 and filled with the passionate exuberance of my first time. We sat next to each other during most classes and snuck touches past our teachers. I’d ask, “What if someone catches us?” and he’d dare me with his eyes, “Who cares?” The first time I fell in love was the first time I felt how soft lips could be, how excited your body could get. How deep conversations could run. We talked about our darkest corners and spent countless nights texting till the sun rose, walk into class with sleepy eyes and repeat. But we didn’t care. We were in love. 

When I first fell in love, I was naive. I balanced between being self-centered and too giving at all the wrong times. He’d tell you I was flirtatious but I’d argue I was just friendly. I’d say he cared too much about how others thought of him and he’d claim that that’s the world we live in. He’d say I was crossing a line and I’d retaliate, “We’re just friends.” We were reckless and irresponsible and too full of young love to understand that the world is so much bigger than the conversations we had in between textbooks. We were still finding ourselves.

The second time I fell in love, I didn’t fall right away. He was older and more experienced and I just wanted to have fun. It wasn’t a sudden spark in the darkness, but a gradual connection that molded itself into something I never saw coming. I had left my home to live in a new place and he stood beside me as I explored new experiences. He showed me how big and how small a hectare of land could be, how many worlds could be built in-between the space of two bodies. How I didn’t have to feel ashamed when blood would run down my legs unexpectedly or when he’d find deodorant marks on my black tops. I learned how to take as much as I give in the shadows of my bed, how to free my body from expectation and see my own skin as a home instead of a temple.

The second time I fell in love, I was still young and carefree and unprepared for heartbreak. I’d flirt with other guys to see if he’d notice and he’d pretend he didn’t. I asked if he loved me and he said, “No.” I lied and said I didn’t either. I remember crying for weeks, waiting for the moment I could listen to music or feel enjoyment without wanting to throw up. We agreed from the beginning that our relationship was temporary, that distance wasn’t worth the effort, but in-between the lines of every message we sent thousands of miles away from one another, were unspoken desires and hopes. But he showed me that memory is fickle and that details fade, grow dusty and crinkle like aged paper. Eventually pain subsides and we learn to grow and be grateful.

The third time I fell in love, I had no plans or expectations. I had no idea relationships and love could be so complex. That I could fall for a girl. I learned how to talk and listen and relate, how to understand the push, pull, and collision of emotional and physical connection. She taught me how to see and be seen, and how love–– real love–– should be given. I’d spend early hours working on papers and assignments and she’d drop me food making sure I ate, giving me the lemons in her water, and running with me even after a long day at work.

But the third time I fell in love, I learned how toxic I could be. How loud I could yell and how hurtful my words could be. How selfish and callous we can be when we know how much someone loves us. How much it hurts to let something go but how much better it feels to know we’re no longer poisoning something pure. The third time I fell in love, I realized I didn’t deserve more. She did.

The last time I fell in love, I didn’t want to. I wanted to live and grow alone for a long while with no distractions. I had a plan and he was in a different country. We barely knew each other and I told myself I’d never confine myself to a long distance relationship. He was in the military, wanting to come back home. I was in the middle of my busiest semester and I wanted to leave, to place roots somewhere else. It was everything I didn’t want. But you don’t really get to decide who you fall in love with.

We spent hours every day texting, calling, learning how distance can’t stop your heartbeat from picking up speed when you see their name pop up on your screen. Learning that the last time can be just as new as the first time. Learning how to squeeze a whole year in 10 days. Learning how to plan 5, 10, 20 years down the line with the same person–– what we’d name our dog, our kids, what color our sheets would be, who’d do the laundry and who’d do the dishes, and how we’d stop our Roomba from falling down the stairs.

But the last time I fell in love, I learned how forgiving I can be. That love alone isn’t enough. I learned that feelings scar and scare us. Remain vivid markers of things we’d rather forget, things we carry with us like a skin tag. That unkept promises metastasize into deeply rooted insecurities that we try to lock inside ourselves but that can never truly stay hidden. That even when we’re in love we can still be unsure, but still, we keep trying and hoping it was always meant to be. And maybe one day It will be.

FAQ: My Master’s Program Part I

A couple weeks ago, I asked my friends on Instagram if they’d be interested to hear about my experience in my master’s program. An overwhelming amount of them kindly said they did, so I went a step further and asked what they would like to know. Below are some of the questions I’ve received and my, hopefully, helpful responses. Some questions I reserved for Part II because they require more in-depth answers. I will be posting it soon though!

For context, I am a graduate student at the University of Guam pursuing a Master of Arts in English with a Literature track. I began my program in the Fall of 2018 and my projected graduation date is December 2020. As such, I can only give my experience and advice based on my specific program.

Here’s what I go over in Part I:

The Process and the Program
– What’s the process like?
– Why did you decide to go to UOG?
– In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters?
– Expectations vs Reality?
– Undergrad vs. Grad?
– Workload?

– Professor interaction compared to undergrad?

The Thesis Process:
– How do you choose a thesis?
– What is the process of completing that thesis?

– Best places for sources?
– How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
– For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other cultures’ stories?

My Personal Journey and Advice to You: 
– Fav moments?
– Fav things you’ve read?
– Is it worth it?
– Does your future career choice require a masters?
– What can you do with your degree?
– What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
– Thoughts on taking a gap year?

The Process and the Program

  • What’s the process like?
    • Pre-application: For my program, I was required to submit a graduate application with my undergraduate transcript and letters of recommendation. I applied a week before classes started. For other programs, you’ll definitely need to plan as several graduate programs require you to apply a semester before classes even start and might require other documents. Make sure to do your research!
    • Credits: Once you get accepted, the English Program requires that students take 9-12 credits or 3-4 courses before they apply for thesis credits. You’ll need a total of 36 credit hours with 6 of those hours being dedicated to thesis. Most of us opted for 2-3 classes a semester as 4 classes, along with our respective jobs and responsibilities, could prove challenging.
    • Thesis: For those who aren’t aware, a thesis is pretty much a final research project, often in the form of a 45-65 page essay. You can choose to go the traditional thesis writing route or the creative thesis route. I chose the latter. Here’s a snippet I stole from my university’s website:
    • Students who follow the traditional option are those who desire to increase their mastery of a given content area and might be contemplating doctoral work in the future. Students who select the creative option might be preparing to teach creative writing in the schools, to work as editors and publishers, or will be writing for personal accomplishment. (“Admission Requirements“)

    • Whatever you choose will have its own challenges, so choose a path that’s interesting and sustainable for you. The best part about your thesis is that it’s yours. While you get to choose what you want to write about, however, your thesis should still showcase the knowledge you accumulated in your courses, which can include a strong command of language and firm understanding and application of theory.
  • Why did you decide to go to UOG?
    • Everyone thinks of cost when choosing a school. Well, almost everyone. I remember going for a drive with two friends of mine. One of them was complaining about how he had spent over $70k for his degree in business and how his job was only paying him a little more than minimum wage. At this time, I also only had a B.A. and was about to pull out loans for my M.A. while only having a part time job.
    • My other friend, who doesn’t have her degree and who was also likely tired of listening to us complain said, “I don’t even have my degree and I’m still making more than both of you.”
    • That’s when I realized I didn’t want to drop $70k+ on a big, fancy school mistakenly thinking my inevitable success would be tied to its name. I knew I could receive just as good of an education at UOG. I already knew the professors, knew that I wanted to study indigenous and pacific Literature, and knew I could accomplish all I wanted with paying a fraction of the price.
  • In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters? and/or vice versa?
    • I wish I could answer this, but I can’t as I have no experience with it. I can, however, table this for a later post where I interview my professors or other graduate students.
  • Expectations vs Reality? Undergrad vs. Grad? Workload?
    • Expectation: The classes will be 10x harder. I’ll hate my life.
    • Reality: When I was taking course work, I was submitting 1-3 essays a week and reading 200+ pages of text along with it. The beginning of the semester usually starts slow, but once it hits midterms it felt like the rest of the semester was me trying to catch up. The rigor and expectation is definitely heightened, but I also had the freedom to choose what classes I wanted to take.  Because my program is relatively small, the professors are really accommodating with students. They always ask for our input and what classes we would like to take next semester. I was actually super interested in what I was learning. So while it was 10x harder, it was far more enjoyable than undergrad. 
    • Expectation: I wouldn’t have time to do anything other than school.
    • Reality: I had a part-time writing job, TA’d for my division, joined an outside league for basketball, and still hung out with friends. I just had to plan, prioritize, and recognize when I needed to buckle down and write that paper.
    • Expectation: I’ll finally have my life together and have it all figured out.
    • Reality: I don’t.
    • Expectation: I’ll be broke.
    • Reality: I mean, I’m nowhere where I want to be financially but I had more opportunities presented to me in graduate school. Because I narrowed my area of focus, it was easier for me to find the right place to network and the right people to work with.
  • In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
    • Great question! I’ll save this for Part II. 😉
  • Professor interaction compared to undergrad?
    • Very good in my program! Some classes are hybrid, meaning it’s a mix of undergraduate students and graduate students (usually 1-2 other grads). In grad-only classes, the typical size is about 5 students, so not only did I form a close relationship with my professors, I also created a much needed bond with my cohort.

The Thesis Process:

  • How do you choose a thesis topic? 
    • Professors often advise students to have a potential thesis topic or area of interest in mind before they even enter the program. A lot of professors are very accommodating and will allow their students to tailor one or more essay assignments to their class and the student’s thesis. For instance, in my SciFi class, I drafted a story with the same theories I used in my thesis (post-colonialism and ecofeminism). What I learned from this essay was a valuable contribution to my actual thesis. So the sooner you know what you’re interested in, the better!
    • I learned, too, that the best way to choose a topic is to find something interesting AND important to me. Then interrogate the hell out of it.
      • Interesting: Mythology, Folklore
      • Important: My culture, my creative writing, valuable ways to create art, uplift voices from marginalized communities
      • My questions: How do Filipino myths shape the perception of women in the Philippines? How do they reflect the treatment of the environment? How can myths be adapted to reflect current times while also remaining a mirror of history/herstory? How can this be valuable and to what communities?
      • Theories: Eco-feminism, Post-colonialism, Abjection
  • What is the process of completing a thesis?
    • Before I decided to write my thesis, I first had to register for thesis credits. Before I registered for thesis credits, I first had to find an advisor or thesis chair (I’ll get into this more in another question).
    • Once I chose my advisor, I chose my committee (usually two to three other professors or scholars) to help me along in this journey. They didn’t need to be experts in my topic, although that certainly helps, but I chose them because they could offer valuable insight to my project.
    • Next, I spent roughly 6 credit hours dedicated to reading, researching, organizing and drafting my manuscript, which is now nearing 67 pages.
    • You can break up your 6 credits any way you want. Some only take 1 thesis credit a semester, others take 3-4. It’s up to you. For some areas of study, your final project might not even be in the form of a long essay. Some colleges have an oral exam. Be aware of your options!
  • Best places for sources?
    • I found a lot of valuable sources on JSTOR, but since my topic deals with indigenous narratives I had to move past the white-men-mostly databases and seek permission to access articles from universities in the Philippines. I also checked the bibliographies of the articles that related to my topic and tried to find the ones of interest to me. If it was a book, I often checked The Project Gutenberg for free texts. Otherwise, I just got really good at wording research topics and tacking ‘scholarly article’ at the end of the google search bar.
    • Before you pay for access to certain sources, check to see if your library or thesis chair is part of an affiliate program where they can retrieve articles from other universities for free. You’d be surprised how many expensive texts and articles I was able to gain access to for free.
  • How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
    • Before I chose my thesis chair, I had to think about the kind of student I was and the type of professors I needed. I knew I needed structure and too much freedom would be debilitating to my productivity. I also knew I wanted to work with someone who was knowledgeable about the theories I wanted to apply, but who was also open to learning about my own thesis topic and balanced that structure with freedom.
    • So I chose an awesome chair who required me to write up a 10 page proposal and have a working list of references before I even started writing. It. Sucked. But I needed it. This proposal helped me refine my topic in many ways. She also required me to create realistic deadlines and made sure I stuck to them.
    • Some professors won’t require a proposal or will give you all the freedom you need and some students thrive with this method. They have their own methods of structure and organization that, sadly, I lack. So choosing the right person to chair your thesis will be heavily informed by how aware you are of your own study and writing habits and how well you know your professors professor-ing habits (?? idk either).
  • For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other culture’s stories?
    • One of the purposes of my thesis is to illustrate one of the many ways indigenous writers can use creative writing to heal colonial wounds and rebuild their own identities unencumbered by the negative stigmas attached to their respective cultures and beliefs. My project seeks to carve a space, specifically, for Filipino narratives to converse with the wide array of stories already told in the corpus of western academia, young adult literature, and mythology. It’s so specific to my home that my hope wouldn’t be to tell the stories of other nations and cultures, but to hopefully encourage indigenous writers to tell their own stories in their own ways.

My Personal Journey and advice to you:

  • Fav moments?
    • My favorite moments all revolve around my cohort. There’s no specific moment, but there’s the specific feelings of struggling and despairing, doubting yourself and what you’re writing but ultimately pushing through and doing it with a supportive group of friends who are all going through the same thing. Sometimes we’d be so stress that our only response was to laugh like psychos over very real fears like what if we don’t finish in time or what if we can’t find a job after?
    • & to me, those are my favorite moments because they taught me that even in the midst of all this underlying fear and palpable stress, that we could still find the energy to laugh and have a good time. Those moments really convinced me that no matter what happens, it’ll all be okay.
  • Fav thing you’ve read?
    • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
    • I read it in my EN680: Seminar in Contemporary Critical Theory class and wrote an essay applying my knowledge of environmental stylistics. I hated this paper so much that my love for it was inevitable.
  • Is it worth it? 
    • I’m always weary of answering this question: Is it worth it? It depends on what your goals are and what you make of your degree. I know everyone hates that answer, but it’s the most truthful one I have. I do think my degree was and is worth it because I learned so much about myself and my area of study. BUT I KNOW! We want to know about job opportunities. See the next question.
  • Does your future career choice require a masters? 
    • No. I would like to work in a publishing house, specifically in adult literature, or become a self-sustaining author. Both of which do not require a master’s degree but it does help in whatever profession I do choose to go into and it does entail a pay increase, soooooo.
    • Yes. I would also like to work as a librarian, which does require a master’s degree in Library Science.
  • What can you do with your degree?
    • Other careers I could pursue with my degree: Marketing, Advertisement, Public Relations, Freelance Writing, Media and Journalism, Law (e.g. paralegal, lawyer), Copyediting, Technical Writing, Teaching, etc.
    • You can basically do anything with an English degree if you’re driven enough to apply what you’ve learned and know the value and application of cross-disciplinary skills–– of which English has many. The most common and most valuable for almost all job markets are a strong command of language, exceptional writing, and strong communication skills.
  • What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
    • I didn’t want to be a little cry baby bitch. I thought about how many people would kill to be in my position, people who don’t have access to education, and who don’t have a supportive group of family and friends–– all people who deserve the right to an education. So I didn’t and don’t want to waste such a blessing. CORNY, I know, but that’s my honest answer.
    • When I first began this specific journey, I wanted to make my parents proud. As I near the end, I’ve come to realize that it’s just as important to make myself proud, which is arguably a lot harder.
  • Thoughts on taking a gap year?
    • I think for some people, it’s a great idea! I know fellow graduates who took a gap year, travelled, taught in other countries, accumulated “real world” experience and came back refreshed and even more ready for the school year. They dominated their course work.
    • In contrast, some people would rather just get straight into it, i.e. me. I was afraid that if I took a gap year, I would lose the motivation to go back to school. So, again, it depends on the person.

I’m all written out. Thank you for reading and I hope some of what I’ve shared has been useful in some way. Maybe it even convinced you to say, “Fuck a master’s degree!” To which I reply, “Do you, boo.” I don’t think a master’s degree is necessary (for the most part!) to be “successful” but I do believe knowledge and education are always an investment and you are worthy of that.

Some questions I’ll be covering in Part II:

  • How to deal with full time and school! Mix of online and in person classes? Gives and takes. 
  • In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
  • What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
  • My tips for optimizing your reading and writing time

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Date A Girl Who Reads

I’ve read “You Should Date An Illiterate Girl,” and “Date a Girl Who Reads” and now I come to you, bold letters and hands to hip to say, “Don’t date a girl who reads.” 

Don’t date a girl who reads.

A girl who reads will know if you’ve really read Pride and Prejudice or if you’ve lazily googled the summary on SparkNotes. She won’t be impressed by the way you understand the symbolism in Animal farm because it’s already painfully obvious. She knows Romeo isn’t a figure of love and that Gatsby didn’t need Daisy, he needed a therapist. A girl who reads might love Heathcliff but she also understands that his deep and brooding nature is unactualized potential and that his codependence on Catherine hinders him from healing his own childhood trauma. 

Don’t date a girl who reads if she’s gone through all 585 pages of Moby Dick. She can tell when a climax is not worth the endless chapters of exposition and will not wait for you to take action. And if she’s versed in Morrison, well good luck, because she knows not to fall in love, but to rise in it. She’s read long books and short ones and knows when a story should’ve ended pages ago (Read: The Old Man and the Sea) so don’t draw out the tension if the resolution is mediocre. She will grow bored, steal the pen away and write her own ending. She’s read and reread the most divinely crafted proclamations of devotion, ones that have been dog-eared, wrapped in Hughes’ blue cloud-cloth and crafted to syntactic perfection. She’s read these passages so often that she’s ingrained them in her memories and houses red alarms in her heart that are triggered when someone comes close to reciting them. So don’t be discouraged when she’s unmoved by your “hey, u up?” text at 3 in the morning.

When Venus tells Adonis to “stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie,” a girl who reads knows Shakespeare is talking about oral sex. She is well versed in fuck boy rhetoric of all kind. She does not want the illusion of selflessness cast over the “you deserve better” cliché. She’d rather have the unconditional love between James Carstairs and Will Herondale.

A girl who reads will want a Luve that she can fold into a red, red rose or write into a sonnet and she wants a heartbreak that has her crumbling into oblivion or shouting into the void because she knows that a perfect love is boring to read. She craves dynamism, multiple climaxes in one story, oscillating periods of passion and discontent and knows that the initial wave of infatuation often gives way to a period of indifference held together by an implicit contract of loyalty and commitment, but that it’ll rise into another crescendo if both characters are patient and determined enough. A girl who reads doesn’t revel in stagnant waters, she rushes towards the waves, towards the other shore Márquez has promised. She knows that that real love isn’t just one or the other, it’s everything–– it is all of it.

You cannot offer the world to a girl who reads. She has gone beyond the white, male pages of the canon and travelled with Hosseini and Lispector, with Pavlova and Tan and Tolkien and knows when to romanticize the world and when to live in it. She’ll read Hurston, and Roy, and Allende and despair when she realizes that Kerouac’s fabulous yellow roman candle-lit night is not the same tainted midnight as Laurie Anderson’s. A girl who reads is not a coffee stained manuscript waiting for your eyes to rove over her at a cafe. She does not fill her shelves with de Beauvoir and Wild and Walker so that you can idealize her into an overdone trope. She does not want the responsibility of opening your eyes to a new world and is not filled with hidden messages waiting for you to annotate between the lines. A girl who reads couldn’t care less if you’re enchanted with the way she smells the pages of a book or runs her fingers through the deckled edges.

She is bold, sans serif font underlined and italicized to her own liking. 

But don’t date a girl who doesn’t read, either.

A girl who doesn’t read might choose to buy a dress or a new pair of shoes instead of a first edition Vonnegut. She’ll zone out at poetry readings or drift into a daydream at the first page of Hunger Games but come alive when you flip to the Western Conference. She might even use a paperback copy of King as a doorstop.

And you know what all this will tell you? Nothing.

It will tell you that it doesn’t matter if a girl would rather spend her Saturday nights drunk and celebrating the beauty of another woman she just met in the bathroom or if she can shotgun a beer faster than the post-nut clarity after your 7 minutes of mediocre performance can hit you. It doesn’t matter that she can’t stylistically analyze a single page of The Sound and the Fury and that she cannot be romanced with Neruda or Pound because she, too, will not be not swayed by your rehearsal of another man’s words and empty declarations of commitment without action.

Maybe she doesn’t read literature or critique the classics, but that doesn’t mean she lacks the intellectual capacity to have deep discussions on politics or existentialism, that she cannot color your life with more shades of cerulean than the Pacific Ocean. She won’t recognize Woolf or Dickinson but she’ll still demand passion and wonder and will see right through any shallow understanding of love and womanhood that many have painfully attempted to categorize under literate and illiterate. She, too, will despise the way others correlate her intellect with the number of books on her shelves and scoff at the way women have been grouped and pitted against one another in outdated binaries.

And in that moment, you’ll find that a girl who doesn’t read can be just as formidable as one that does, that there is no hidden value to be found in a girl that reads that cannot be found in one that doesn’t, that philosophies and values learned through text are not inherently superior to those formed by experience alone.
And when you realize this surface-level perception of literacy and of women is a fragile pairing wrought from a dirt stained lens, it will intimidate you and it will destroy you. 

So if this is how you view us, don’t date a girl who reads.
Don’t date a girl who doesn’t read.
In fact, don’t date a girl at all.
None of us want you.

Note: I actually really enjoyed reading “Date and Illiterate Girl.” I appreciate it’s purposeful diction and beautifully crafted syntax and understand the piece for what it is. “Date a Girl Who Reads” was kind of cringe-y at some parts, but there were passages I identified with. So consider my piece as not an attack to these respective authors but a response to all the boys who’ve labeled me and many other women as “coffee shop girls” or a “party girls” without understanding that these designations are empty labels devoid of any true substance, that it disregards the multitudinous identities a woman can adopt. 

“How Do You Know You’re A Writer?”

Sometimes the words fall through the tips of my fingers with the same excruciating slowness as that of the leaves of a hibiscus detaching itself from its stem.
Other days my hand speeds across the page with the same intensity as a tornado threatening anything that gets in its way.
Some moments I wish I never have to pick up another pen or glide it across another page.
Many days I hope to spend the limited seconds of my life buried in words so deep, I’d collapse from my final breath before I’d ever crawl out.
Often, I wonder if I should keep going, keep connecting the curves until the ink runs out. Or I wonder if I’ve fallen hopelessly in a passionate outburst of words born out of over-inflated self importance.
I write and I write.
And I am tired.
I am exhausted by the mental capacity needed to come up with another simple sentence, another worthy thought, which almost always comes up short.
And before I know it, I am just a word that flows into the air, evaporating into the clouds until it is barely the shadow of a letter.
It is like a wish being thrown into a well falling until its echo is just a whisper. Sometimes someone hears it and other times, no one does.
And so it falls like dead weight to the ground.
But I cannot not write
because there is no other choice but to be
and for me, to be is to find those cursed words
that I write over and over again, until they lose their meaning.
And so I write.
And I write.
Nd I write.
D I write.
I Write.
Write.
Rite.
Ite.
Te.
E.

My First Poem of 2020

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 I wrote a love poem once

But the words never made it on paper
Instead, they flew right out the window
And they rose and fell and evaded me 
before shooting across a rose covered sky
Like a comet during a sunset

For two decades,
They followed the waves of the Seven Seas

Crashed against the banks of countless countries
Weaved their way through Chocolate Hills and 
Machu Picchu, along the Great Pyramids of Giza, 
Through the South Pole, and then into the Northern Lights
Where they stayed for a long while. 

And for a time,
I thought I had lost them forever

That they had fallen into some dark abyss
With no one to catch them
Or found their way into a stranger’s distant dream
who would wake up that morning
And forget.

I had never imagined
that they would have fallen haphazardly onto your lap
–– unannounced and without preamble

ages before I had even heard your name,
 

and

I would have never dreamed
That the stars and the moon and the countless suns
had all planned the exact moment
 when we would meet,
me, with my unmarked paper

you, with my worn and well-traveled words

and that you had been waiting
       all this time
to return them to me. 

 

The Vain Pursuit of Unrealized Truths

The Vain Pursuit of an Unrealized Truths
An Exegesis of “Eyes of a Blue Dog” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

“Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.”
Jean Paul Sartre

“Necessity has the face of a dog.”[1]
Gabriel García Márquez

[Please Note: I wrote this when I was an undergrad. I am now a graduate student and my current sentiments are as follows: FUCK FREUD]

When the sun dips and the world outside cools down, it is time to sleep. For many, this is a simple ritual. They rest their heads on their pillows. They close their eyes and suddenly they are flying, reliving distorted childhood memories, or traveling the various avenues that their dreams take them. Then when they wake in the morning, they think nothing more of it. Hidden beneath the depths of the mundane façade of these landscapes and events lies a deeper, more profound truth of who these sleepers are– what they crave, what they fear. What are dreams if not windows to the subconscious? In The Uncanny[2], Sigmund Freud writes that “the meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure, the reason is that at night we are visited by desires that we are ashamed of and must conceal from ourselves, that have for this very reason been repressed, pushed into the unconscious.” This idea sets the stage for longing and desolation to manifest in “Eyes of a Blue Dog”[3] a short story by Gabriel García Márquez in which the narrator meets the perfect woman in his dreams each night. They gather in the shadows of a cold world of solitude that provides solace because they share it together. Yet, there lies danger in the man’s suppression and idealization of the object of his desire.

Dreams forgo logic in favor of depicting one’s most raw self. So what is the narrator longing for without end? It is clear that he recognizes his meetings with the woman as something that has been ongoing on for years. Some nights he can feel the sheets fall from him, magnifying the cold, and in others he wakes to the sound of a spoon falling. This may emphasize the intensity and ceaselessness of his yearning but does not reveal it. Consider Freud’s interpretation of dreams: “A jocular saying has it that ‘love is a longing for home‘, and if someone dreams of a certain place or a certain landscape and, while dreaming, thinks to himself, ‘I know this place, I’ve been here before’, this place can be interpreted as representing his mother’s genitals or her womb.”[4] We can view the woman as a being of comfort, of home, of care and love that is often associated with a mother. The narrator longs for the feelings associated with whom he first desired in this world. It is a comforting sentiment knowing you are not alone, but the solitude of these two beings–whether fictitious of not– is only heightened in this illusory world. It serves as a stark contrast to the yearning and passion that lay between a lonely man and woman. Everything they wish for is within proximity, but they still cannot have it. Perhaps this is why the woman is characterized as being “oily, slipper,” an object that could easily slip through his grasp the moment he tries to latch on to her (Márquez 433). She is present in his dream because she is absent in his reality.

In Being and Nothingness[5], Jean-Paul Sartre touches upon the relationship between lovers. He writes: “While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the Other, the Other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the Other, the Other seeks to enslave me” (Sartre 475). He goes on further to note that to know someone is to own them. In his dream, the man and woman own one another. He wishes to dominate her and to be the center of this woman’s world. In his dreams, he is. Márquez writes: “Her life had been dedicated to finding me in reality, though that identifying phrase: “Eyes of a blue dog.” And she went along the street saying it aloud, as a way of telling the only person who could have understood her” (434). The woman even reveals her nakedness to him.[6] In this dream world, his cravings are realized, and to a small extent, met. Sartre also expands on this possession as being something that travels beyond the physical. He claims that “if Love were in fact a pure desire for the physical possession, it could in many cases be easily satisfied” (Sartre 478). The characters’ encounters are far from “easy.” They are in the midst of their deepest wants, but cannot attain them. The narrator is seeking something deeper than touch. He craves connection. Moreover, not only does he desire a partner in his solitude he also desires possession. The narrator claims, “I’ve always wanted to see you like that, with the skin of your belly full of deep pits, as if you’ve been beaten” (Márquez 434). The bruises serve as a sign of her submission to a stronger power, himself.

These observations all lead to yet another question: Is the woman imagined? Is she a tangible and active participant of the “real” world? Several instances indicate that this woman is merely a figment of his imagination. Why can she remember the contents of the dream and he cannot? She is a reoccurring participant of his fragmented dreamscape is fully cognizant of who is sleeping outside of the room they share and what is down the hallway from their tiny space. For her, he is the Other. Despite the dream being an object of his own construction, he is the intruder in the world that she is a part of. While the narrator remains cold due to the sheets falling off in his sleep, the woman can warm herself over the flames of the lamp in the room. That is, he is subject to the happenings of the outside, while she only exists and experiences what is in the room– in the dream. In addition, the lamp shared between them is almost a border stopping him from crossing into the world she lives in. While he wishes to touch her, he cannot. Rather, “[He] kept on walking with the cigarette and matches in [his] hand, which would not go beyond the lamp” (Márquez 435).

It can further be argued that the woman is even his own subconscious come to him in the form of what he both fears and desires the most. For him, she represents both companionship[7] and loneliness. They are both desolate creatures and when he looks in the mirror he sees himself. Take the following lines from Márquez:

“I thought she was looking at me for the first time. But then, she turned around behind the lamp and I kept feeling her slippery and oily look in back of me, over my shoulder, I understood that it was I who was looking at her for the first time” […] and “I said to her again: ‘I see you.’ And she raised her eyes from the brassiere again. ‘That’s impossible,’ she said. I asked her why. And she, with her eyes quiet and on her brassiere again: ‘Because your face is turned toward the wall.’” (Márquez 433-434)

Even when his gaze is not directly on her, he knows what she is doing: “She had raised her eyes;” and what part of the room she lays: “Sitting in front of the mirror again” (Márquez 433-434). It is as if every movement of hers is his own. Her longing for him is the most extreme version of his own yearning. While she wakes up from each sleep remembering the phrase they use to find one another: “Eyes of a blue dog,” he never fails to forget despite him being the one inventing the phrase for them to use. It becomes apparent that he is the one who truly wishes to find her, but, ironically, is the one who cannot remember the happenings of the dreams when he wakes. Thus, this only affirms the suppression of his longings in the real world. More than that, the woman tells him not to come closer or he’ll ruin the illusion. If he breaks this fantasy of her and of their shared space, he will come face to face with his own unfulfilled desires and his own solitude. If we take the woman to be an extension of his subconscious, the narrator is warning himself against that which would shed light into his deepest fears.

The woman is both a symbol of his loneliness and a balm for it. Yet, his idealization of her is only damaging the ability of his subconscious to reach a resolution. He traps her in his gaze. Sartre writes, “The Other [the narrator] looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I [the woman] am. Thus, the profound meaning of my being is outside of me” (Sartre 473). Her being is only given value from his view of her. By “her” I am referring to any companion the narrator wishes to find in reality as the woman of his dreams is a representation of the unrealistic expectations he may project onto women in the real world. In this dream, he designs her to be perfect, but in doing so, she is confined to such perfection. By idealizing her, he offers no room for improvement. It stunts her growth and in a deeper sense, their potential growth as a couple. Were he to actualize this desire in the outside of his subconscious, the manifestations of his unrealistic expectations would only disappoint him once he comes face to face with the inevitable flaws of reality. Thus, suppressing his desires, failing to bring them into the light–– into the real world where they can be resolved–– the narrator only fuels his solitude, only heightens his cold. His fears and desolation must first be recognized before his desires can be actualized. Only when the narrator meets his repressed feelings of solitude and desire for companionship can he go beyond the lamp, warm himself from the cold, and truly wake up.

Notes

[1] This quote is the English equivalent of the Spanish proverb “la necesidad tiene cara de hereje,” which translates to “the need has the face of a heretic.”

[2] Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 1534-1536) Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[3] Márquez, Gabriel. “Eyes of a Blue Dog.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, pp. 433-437

[5]Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Washington Square, 1993.

[6] In The Uncanny, Freud explains this nakedness as the desire for truth. When a dreamer is naked, he/she is in their most raw and honest form. Thus, the narrator desires to know someone when they are their complete, honest self—a form of intimacy deeper than touch.

[7] In the following passages, the idea of “her” can be understood as “companionship” and its derivatives–the longing of it– or the extension of the narrator’s own being rather than the actual woman herself.

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion
An Exegesis of “The Saint” by V.S. Pritchett

“My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think… and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“How extraordinary it is that one feels most guilt about the sins one is unable to commit.”
V.S. Pritchett

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.[1]
Jean-Paul Sartre

The great burden and blessing of life is the innate freedom belonging to humanity. We are free to live, free to die, free to walk to the grocery store or drive there. Our very identity is comprised of choices that have been dictated by our own actions or inactions. Perhaps the question is not whether or not we have choices but rather, which one is the better of the two, or the three, or the myriad of other possibilities. The facticities of life may illucidize[2] us into believing we are limited in opportunity– that the only choice is to take that test, to continue living, to wallow in poverty– yet what this truly points to is the reluctance of individuals to accept the responsibilities, burdens, and uncertainties of the other options we are too afraid to unbury. In V.S. Pritchett’s “The Saint,”[3] the burden of freedom surfaces from the depths of systematic religion– that which confines its congregation to routine behaviors that restrict individual consciousness and displaces responsibility.

In the Church of the Last Purification, the image of God is unsullied by imperfection and is revered. Mr. Timberlake and his congregation all seek an entity who will cast his final judgement on the world, determine the outcome of their individual lives, and thereby, remove the responsibility of action. To be a part of the Purification is to become a passive participant of one’s own life. It is to immobilize the fearful limbs of uncertainty. When the narrator describes Mr. Timberlake after he unmasks the pretense of the Purification, he claims, “By no word did he acknowledge the disasters or the beauties of the world,” (Pritchett 620); he was a man unable and unwilling to grasp onto reality long enough to participate in the world around him. The characters in the text illustrate this passivity through their dependence on God to provide the necessities of life. The uncle is described as a man “always in difficulties about money […] convinced that in some way God would help him” (612). The congregation lays in constant wait for the way to be “shown” to them rather than actively pursuing their opportunities (615). In Being and Nothingness[4], Sartre writes:

I am abandoned in the world, not in the sense that I might remains abandoned and passive in a hostile universe like a board floating on the water but rather in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility in an instant. For I am responsible for my very desire of fleeing responsibilities. To make myself passive in the world, to refuse to act upon things and upon Others is still to choose myself, and suicide is one mode among others of being-in-the-world. (710)

What the characters in the story are doing is allowing their abandonment to take root and control their lives. The facticity of their worlds remains unmastered and prevails through the weak will to substantiate their existence.

The Purification, moreover, is under the misconception that attaining a transcendent state of being will fill the lack, the nothingness, that all humans come from. Yet, this pursuit is a vain endeavor. Humans are incapable of perceiving perfection– a state which, by its very definition and the facts of their very existence, is unattainable. Sartre writes, “Human reality arises as such in the presence of its own totality or self as a lack of that totality. And this totality can not be given by nature, since it combines in itself the incompatible characteristics of the in-itself and the for-itself” (140). Thus, because they cannot perceive or experience perfection, they can never truly attain it. Because humanity possess consciousness, they can never truly become a being-in-itself. They are confined to the for-itself. To immortalize God (a being-in-itself) as they are (a being-for-itself) is to immobilized the progression of humanity– to deny the ability to surpass even the standards by which perfection was first casted.

To expand, in the narrative, Mr. Timberlake serves as a god amongst men and women. He is idealized and glorified. His presence in the narrator’s home is described as an honor. The narrator recalls, “It was unbelievable that a man so eminent would actually sit in our dining-room, use our knives and forks, and eat our food. Every imperfection in our home and our characters would jump out at him” (Pritchett 613). The flaws of their daily living, mundane aspects of their home that another would hardly notice, are starkly contrasted in the presence of this ideal being. His every word is law. Again, the narrator continues, “Whatever Mr. Timberlake believed must be true and as I listened to him at lunch, I thought there could be no finer life than this” (Pritchett 614). Yet, what we will come to find is that Mr. Timberlake is merely a human hiding beneath the pretense of perfection. He is a man who has abandoned the onus of his existence. He was a man “formally acknowledging a world he did not live in. It was too interesting, too eventful a world. His spirit, inert and preoccupied, was elsewhere in an eventless and immaterial habitation” (Pritchett 619). Mr. Timberlake looks at the physical world with “boredom,”(Pritchett 619) not actualizing his physical presence. He is disrobed of the illusion when he falls into the river. The narrator describes the moment: “It was a fatal flaw in a statue, an earthquake crack that made the monumental mortal… he was a declining dogma” (Pritchett 617-18).

In the text, the Purification and the existence of a God functions more as an illusion of security than an genuine pursuit for self-fulfillment. Yet, The inability to recognize the deficiencies of life, puts the members of the church in danger. Pritchett writes:

We regarded it as ‘Error’– our name for Evil– to believe the evidence of our senses, and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them they therefore did not exist. (612)

When Mr. Timberlake accompanies the young narrator punting down the river, a branch bares itself in the way. Governed by rules that deny the existence of a hazardous situation, Mr. Timberlake denies that there is a branch and as a result he falls in the river. Despite reality, in the eyes of the Purification, he did not fall and the branch was not present. In accordance with his faith, he continues on the day acting as if he is not drenched and the event did not happen; God would not bring into being an object that would hurt his creations. Sartre argues, however, that, “[humanity] is responsible for the world and for [themselves] as a way of being… since [humanity] is the one by whom it happens that there is a world; since [humanity] is also the one who makes [themselves] be” (707). The belief of the Purification displaces the responsibility of action to that of a being with no physical existence– who lacks any grounding in reality. Moreover, renouncing the onus of existence is still an act in itself. Sartre continues, “I am ashamed of being born or I am astonished at it or I rejoice over it, or in attempting to get rid of my life I affirm that I live and I assumed this life as bad” (710). There is only the world which we live in and there are only the choices we make. The trees, the air we breathe, the solid ground beneath our feet are tangible proofs of existence. To place blame on anyone other than himself for his own actions, Mr. Timberlake–– and in a larger sense, the Purification–– refuses to accept the burden of responsibility that freedom entails. They seek purification to provide the comfort of a predetermined existence. The narrator comes to realize this for himself when he is disillusioned of Mr. Timberlake’s ideality. He states:

I saw the shoes dip, the water rise above his ankles and up his socks. He tried to move his grip now to a yet higher branch– he did not succeed– and in making this effort his coat and waistcoat rise and parted from his trousers[…] It was at this moment I realized that the final revelation about man and society on earth had come to nobody and that Mr. Timberlake knew nothing at all about the origin of evil. (618)

The narrator realizes that this man, whom all members of the church have glorified, is no better than the rest. Yet, perhaps Mr. Timberlake had been aware of his lack all along when the narrator recalls, “[Mr. Timberlake] had come out with me, I saw, to show me that he was only human,” (620) which illustrates the active choice in remaining ignorant.

Another confining aspect of the Purification that Pritchett brings forth is the threat of a blanketed ideology that denies individual consciousness. An unspoken rule to establish membership in the church is that one’s own thoughts are poisonous to the goal– to the pursuit of transcendence. What follows are guidelines set to deny the negative outcomes that inevitably enter the lives of each character. Once again, when the narrator warns Mr. Timberlake of the branch obstructing his path, the faithful man proclaims that the branch is barely a challenge. The narrator then thinks to himself, “I did not want to offend one of the leaders of our church, so I put the paddle down; but I felt I ought to have taken him further along away from the irritation of the trees” (Pritchett 616). In an earlier passage the narrator is discouraged from exploring his thoughts when his uncle remarks, “This is my nephew. He thinks he thinks, but I tell him he only thinks he does” (Pritchett 614). This mentality discourages individual existence and reduces it to a whole, unified being. The foundation of this perceived unity, however, is laid with fear of repercussions from all members of the Purification. Sartre writes of subjectivity and individual experiences that “for [him], this glass is to the left of the decanter and a little behind it; for Pierre, it is to the right and a little in front. It is not even conceivable that a consciousness survey the world in such a way that the glass should be simultaneously given to it at the right and at the left of the decanter, in front of and behind it” (405). Thus, individual experiences are the only truth there is. A life cannot be dictated by a universal ethic, by which there is none.

Despite recognizing the restrictive nature of religion, one is left to wonder why it still prevails to this day. Churches are filled to the brim every Sunday. Theology is a pertinent subject in many private educations. Priests stand around pews preaching homilies from morning, afternoon, and twilight. Religion is, to many, a necessary part of being. While the primary argument of “The Saint” demonizes the Purification, the system of religion as a whole should not be demonized. For followers of Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, and the countless other gods, a sense of belonging overshadows individuation. The hope for an hereafter designed as paradise or the fear of the afterlife consumed in fires, albeit intangible and unprovable in our reality, can greatly drive one’s actions. Sartre writes: “My abandonment–i.e. My facticity– consists simply in the fact that I am condemned to be wholly responsible for myself (711). Hence, should our endeavors never reach fulfillment or our lives turn dark with dismay, we must assume the burden of the outcomes. This proves a paralyzing concept and some may find comfort in an assigned or predictable routine. What many view as “freedom” or “lack of freedom” is a neutral concept awaiting to be assigned a negative or positive character created by a subjective experience.

In a more positive light, while done to the extreme may prove unhealthy, perhaps denying the negative events that occur can alleviate the stresses of life and provide a sense of comfort. After his incident in the river, Mr. Timberlake tells the narrator, “Let’s go on. We‘re not going to let a little thing like this spoil a beautiful afternoon” (Pritchett 618). As the story progresses, the narrator recounts, “Heart disease, it was plain, was the cause of the death of Mr. Timberlake… It was a miracle, the doctor said, that he had lived as long. Any time during the last twenty years the smallest shock might have killed him” (Pritchett 620). It is at this point of the story where the narrator comes to realize that the Purification and its teachings saved Mr. Timberlake from an untimely end. This only affirms the notion that religion serves multiple purposes. While for the narrator it disillusoned him into discovering his own consciousness and reclaiming his freedom, for Mr. Timberlake, his faith, while a pretense, prevented a heart attack; he had “made for himself a protective, sedentary blandness, an automatic smile, a collection of phrases,” which provided him the comfort and security many seek for in religion.

Thus, to truly understand our purpose in this world, we must first recognize it as the only world. We can only fully understand our reality through our own experiences. Following this, we must reclaim our responsibility and move from a passive existence to an active one, in which our pursuits are predominantly governed by physical, forward motion and effort. What then becomes of our actions after this revelation? We may realize these truths, but to what end? The answer is that we must cast off the illusion, understand our responsibility and then decide if we should continue on our existence as individuals in a collectivist society or if we should partake in the ideals of our congregation and alleviate some burden of responsibility. Regardless of the outcomes that follow thereafter, we must always remember that we are never as alive, never as able, and never as responsible as when we become fully cognizant of a moment in which the progression of our lives depend on our action or inaction.

Notes

[1] There is no reality except in action.

[2] For the purposes of my paper, I took the liberty of creating my own word. To illucidize is to incite illusion or cause it to be.

[3] V.S. Pritchett. “The Saint.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, 612-21.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Washington Square, 1993, 405+.

Of Love and Other Demons

Demonizing the Hegemonic Culture of 18th Century Colombia
An Exegesis of Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

 “Absence is God. God is the loneliness of man. There was no one but myself; I alone decided on Evil; and I alone invented Good.”

Jean Paul Sartre[i]

“Take care. Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.”

Gabriel García Márquez[ii]

The pursuit of a higher existence following death, one that lacks any form of pain or hardship, sets the tone for the actions carried out by those who adhere to the belief of God and heaven; and even more inspiring than the fruitful promises of Paradise lies the fear of its dreaded counterpart, the devil and hell. While the genesis of such beliefs may start with good intentions–– i.e. to prevent chaos and disorder–– the results are often manifested through fear or ignorance, producing a lack of empathy and hindering moral progression. Thus, what may start out as a means to deter evil, becomes a vehicle for demons to come out from the shadows. Of Love and Other Demons[iii], a novella by Gabriel García Márquez, places itself in the midst of social-transformation that evolves during the decline of the Spanish Inquisition and slavery in colonial Colombia. It is here where evil takes the form of sacred institutions and hides behind individuals comprising the dominant upper class. The effects of this pandemonium are most apparent through Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles[iv], the foundling virgin who is subject to the horrors created by those who present themselves as her saviors. What results from the blind faith inspired by the Inquisition and the persistent oppression of non-Western tradition by the dominant White culture is the gradual degradation of the purest soul in the novella, Sierva María.

To provide context for the points to be argued in the following passages, what directly follows is a brief summary of the novella. One fateful Sunday on a South American seaport of Cartagena, a twelve-year-old Sierva is bitten by a rabid dog. She shows no apparent signs of infection other than a barely visible abrasion. However, perpetuated by her animalistic behavior–– taught to her by Dominga de Adviento, the black slave woman charged with her care and the girl’s practice of the Yoruban beliefs shared with her by the other slaves of her father’s home–– she is believed to be possessed by the devil. When Dominga de Adviento dies, the child becomes the sudden responsibility of a hateful and absent mother, Bernarda Cabrera, and an apathetic father, the Marquis de Casalduero, who, previous to his revelation[v], despised the girl for reminding him of her mother. To avoid responsibility of their unloved heir, Sierva is abandoned to the Convent of Santa Clara where she meets Josefa Miranda, the bitter Abbess and Father Cayentano Delaura, the priest entrusted to carry out her exorcism. Yet, rather than removing the demons believed to be devastating her soul, Delaura falls hopelessly in love with the tragic creature and his actions incite a divide between his desires and his duties. What results from these events is the death, or arguably the murder, of Sierva María through the rituals of exorcism.

The most pressing question of the novella persists throughout the text: Is Sierva María really possessed? To answer this, we must first indicate the symptoms often associated with possession. According to scholar Michael Grosso:

The possessed person behaves in ways that are totally alien to his usual self. He (or more probably she) blasphemes and acts out violent loathing of the conventional sacred symbols; is, moreover, tormented by physical contact with them; demoniacs recoil in pain from holy water sprinkled on them […] The moral otherness of demoniacs looks like an invasion from without; to view it as “merely” a revelation of something repressed within is no less uncanny […] Another symptom of possession is said to be the preternatural strength displayed by demoniacs. (510)[vi]

In the novella, Sierva shows little to no aversion to sacred symbols and does not scream or yell obscenities when Delaura sprinkles holy water in her cell. Any signs of preternatural strength are presented only as rumors spread by others rather than actual events narrated by Márquez. Following her arrival in the convent the persistent destruction of the edifice and the odd behavior of the farm animals surrounding it supports the assumption that “nothing occurred that was not attributed to the pernicious influence of Sierva María. Several novices declared in the acta that she flew on transparent wings that emitted a strange humming” (Márquez 69). To further emphasize the ability for these scandals to manifest in the community, Márquez also writes, “The fiction that Cayetano Delaura was the Bishop’s son had replaced the older rumor that they had been lovers ever since Salmanca” (138). He utilizes qualifying diction such as “novices declared,” “they said,” “rumor,” and “the fiction” to show that these tales are the creation of humans rather than the devil. Meanwhile, the physical and psychological signs of Sierva’s possession are a result of the harsh treatment done unto her by her exorcisers or, as they claim to be, “healers.” Márquez writes: “Sierva María felt as if she were dying […] after two fruitless weeks she had a fiery ulcer on her ankle, her body was scalded by mustard plasters and blistering poultices and the skin on her stomach was raw” (51). Along with these physical ailments, Sierva experiences delusions, convulsions, and loses control of her bladder and bowel movements, but such symptoms are the effects of others’ treatment of her.

Animalistic behavior, moreover, is often associated with demons. This is the sole trait displayed most by Sierva. The young girl is prone to biting and to ferocious tendencies. When the priest first encounters Sierva she “look[s] at Delaura for the first time, weigh[s] and measure[s] him, and attack[s] with the well-aimed pounce of a hunted animal” (Márquez 85). She is described as being “a viper,” “a tiger,” and “snapping at the air like a dog” (Márquez 64+). Sierva’s behavior, however, is more so a result of her parents’ abandonment and her lack of formal education and social grooming. Her behavior is akin to that of an animal because she is raised with the “primitive” characteristics of slaves who were treated like beasts by the Whites. In regards to animalism, Julia Kristeva writes in “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” that “the abject confronts us, on the one hand, with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal. Thus, by way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder” (12-13). This attitude is prevalent in Cartagena as the upper class continues to treat slaves like property, Other Blacks, and characterize African rituals and beliefs as savage, animalistic. The Marquise only perpetuates these stigmas when he tries to undo the teachings the slaves teach Sierva. He “tried to teach her to be a real white […] to suppress her fondness for pickled iguana and armadillo stew,” (Márquez 47) exposing his belief in a wrong culture and a right one. Sierva is thus Othered and oppressed by the onslaught of the dominant Western culture.

Despite the perpetual demonization of the slaves, Marquez’s text argues that the real villains are the colonizers. In fact, it is the “savages” who take in Sierva and treat her with kindness. They teach the foundling their traditions and beliefs. Sierva would often be found in the servants’ courtyard “helping to skin rabbits, and her face was painted black, her feet were bare, and her head wrapped in the red turban used by slave women,” (Márquez 16) and when she relived herself she would  “urinate behind the tree, squatting and holding a stick at the ready to defend herself against abusive animals and predatory men, just as Dominga de Adviento had taught her to do” (Márquez 64). She is the antithesis of her aristocratic family and adopts her own “lower-class” identity. Márquez writes, “‘The only thing white about that child is her color,’ her mother [Bernarda] would say. This was so true that the girl changed her name to an African name of her own invention: María Mandinga” (45). It is because she is so similar in behavior to the despised Blacks but white with ethereal, coppery hair– qualities favored by the West– that she often confounds those around her. She is what Kristeva would describe as being “repulsive and fascinating, abject” (158) and her juxtaposing behaviors and looks “disturbs identity, system, order” (4). She is the living product of two cultures integrated into one being; and society’s exclusion of her and of their non-Western counterparts, illustrate the failure of the Spaniards and Christians to adapt to cultural evolution. In simple terms, it is not the act of the devil, but the West’s persistence in hegemonizing­­­­­ South America that demonizes Sierva María, or more precisely, that demonizes the lower class and culture.

Ironically, the most prominent face of evil in the novella wears the mask of Josefa Miranda, the Abbess of the convent in Santa Clara. She is a woman fully governed under the pretense of “faith” and duty and lacks any indication or desire for truth and reason. When she leads Delaura to Sierva María’s cell and exclaims that the wall is covered in blood, Delaura admonishes her for being so rash in her declaration. He claims that “just because the water was red, that did not mean it had to be blood, and even if it were, that did not mean it had to be diabolical” (Márquez 82). This indicates the impulsive inclination those blinded by faith possess to believe the worst in matters that they do not fully understand. The insidious nature of religion is further emphasized when Abrenuncio, a well educated doctor claims, “‘There is not much difference between that and the witchcraft of blacks […] In fact, it is even worse because the blacks only sacrifice roosters to their gods, while the Holy Office is happy to break innocents on the rack or burn them alive in a public spectacle’” (Márquez 72). The nuns of the convent view the girl with curiosity and wonder rather than disdain. In fact, “the presence inside the convent walls of a girl possessed by demons had all the excitement of an extraordinary adventure” (Márquez 70). The nuns break into Sierva María’s cell and plead with her to speak to the devil and intercede on their behalf–– asking her to illicit impossible favors from the very entity they vow to despise. This further highlights that the pretense of religion and faith are merely the masks of corrupt sacred establishments. Delaura and Abrenuncio, both well-read scholars, and the Abbess, a cloistered nun dependent on the teachings of the Church, represent the divide between religion and science, but even deeper, the divide between women and men. The Abbess and “all women of her day were forbidden any kind of formal education, yet from the time she was very young she had learned scholastic argumentation in her family of distinguished theologians and great heretics” (Márquez 82). The Abbess is a product of the institution that raised her. Allegorically, this contrast reflects the period of the Spanish Inquisition, the coming of the Enlightenment, and the damaging effects of a patriarchal society.

Evil does not lie only in sacred institutions as the face of the teachings of a debauched society is also visible in Sierva María’s mother. No one is as repulsed by the girl nor wishes her demise more than Bernarda. She is incapable of loving her own daughter and is apathetic in all aspects of life irrelevant to her. When Sierva María is first bitten by the dog, the primary concern of her mother is that the reputation of their family would be tarnished. And again, when the Marquis  explains to her that their daughter has been left at the convent, she cries; we are first moved to see the first indication of her love only to be disillusioned by her next words: “‘You mean that now our shame is public knowledge” (Márquez 108). Yet, like the Abbess, she is a product of her time and society. The degradation of her soul had been enacted far before Sierva María’s birth. She had been whored to the Marquise, through the will of her father, and ordered trap him into marriage through means of impregnation. The Marquis, himself, had desired Bernarda only for the physical pleasures of her body, rejecting her when she first came to him with child and only submitting to an official union when his life is threatened by her father. Thus, the societal view of her as the submissive gender reduces her to merely a body easily distributed and discarded by men. To add to the evolution of her sour character is the death of the only love of her life, Judas Iscariote, a black man who perishes in a fight against three other slaves. She laments, “‘I would have been capable of hacking them [runaway slaves] to pieces with a machete. And not only them but you and the girl and my skinflint of a father, and everyone else who turned my life to shit” (Márquez 141). While Bernarda victimizes Sierva María and abandons her to an ill fate, in the end of the novella, we see that she, too, is a victim of her place in life and is haunted by demons of her own.

Although Sierva shows signs of aggressiveness, aversion to society, and ferocity, she possesses no evil entities within. Rather, the real demons lie without. They hide behind the mask of the Abbess and the executors of the Spanish Inquisition. They lurk in the corridors of apathetic parents, slave-traders and colonizers. They prey on those who oppress others in order to maintain their high position in the hierarchy of corruption. More than anything else, they are creatures of humanity that create their own demise. Of Love and Other Demons is Marquez’s critique of society and religion and the corrupt individuals that the teachings of both have brought forth. While not wholly representing every devout Christian or all Spaniards of the 18th century, Márquez does opens the cracks of a system built atop decaying foundations. By adhering to the strict and limiting orders of hegemonized institutions that fail to integrate themselves into a diversifying world, his characters fail to transcend the boundaries of their oppressive society and such attitudes often lead to demonizing and destroying the most innocent of souls.

Notes

[i] Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Devil and the Good Lord,” in The Worlds of Existentialism: A Critical Reader, ed. Maurice Friedman (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 248.

[ii] Gabriel García Márque Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons, (New York: Vintage International, 1995), 80.

[iii] Gabriel García Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons. New York: Vintage International, 1995.

[iv] According to Márquez, Sierva Maria is based on a corpse he had come across while transferring unclaimed crypts in the convent of the Clarissan nuns to a common grave. There, he came across the decayed body of Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles with a long flow of coppery hair that belied her deceased corpse. He claims that this reminded him of the story his grandmother told of a twelve-year-old Marquise with long, fiery hair that preformed miracles.

[v] When arguing with Bernarda about the state of their daughter’s health, the Marquise comes to the realization that he truly does love Sierva and from that point on works to rectify his mistreatment of her.

[vi] Michael Grosso. “Possession & Exorcism: Understanding the Human Psyche in Chaos\The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Journal of Scientific Exploration 28, no. 3 (2014): 509-17.