“LZ Gator, Vietnam, February 1994” excerpt from “” by Tim O’Brien, published in 1994 by the New York Times1
A prior version of this book included an excerpt of “The Vietnam in Me” from “LZ Gator, Vietnam, February 1994” to “Nothing here but ghosts and the wind.”
Excerpt: “I’m home, but the house is gone. Not a sandbag, not a nail or a scrap of wire.
On Gator, we used to say, the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks. Maybe that’s what happened—the wind sucked it all away. My life, my virtue.
In February 1969, 25 years ago, I arrived as a young, terrified pfc. on this lonely little hill in Quang Ngai Province. Back then, the place seemed huge and imposing and permanent. A forward firebase for the Fifth Battalion of the 46th Infantry, 198th Infantry Brigade, LZ Gator was home to 700 or 800 American soldiers, mostly grunts. I remember a tar helipad, a mess hall, a medical station, mortar and artillery emplacements, two volleyball courts, numerous barracks and offices and supply depots and machine shops and entertainment clubs. Gator was our castle. Not safe, exactly, but far preferable to the bush. No land mines here. No paddies bubbling with machine-gun fire.
Maybe once a month, for three or four days at a time, Alpha Company would return to Gator for stand-down, where we took our comforts behind a perimeter of bunkers and concertina wire. There were hot showers and hot meals, ice chests packed with beer, glossy pinup girls, big, black Sony tape decks booming “We gotta get out of this place” at decibels for the deaf. Thirty or 40 acres of almost-America. With a little weed and a lot of beer, we would spend the days of stand-down in flat-out celebration, purely alive, taking pleasure in our own biology, kidneys and livers and lungs and legs, all in their proper alignments. We could breathe here. We could feel our fists uncurl, the pressures approaching normal. The real war, it seemed, was in another solar system. By day, we’d fill sandbags or pull bunker guard. In the evenings, there were outdoor movies and sometimes live floor shows—pretty Korean girls breaking our hearts in their spangled miniskirts and high leather boots — then afterward we’d troop back to the Alpha barracks for some letter writing or boozing or just a good night’s sleep.
So much to remember. The time we filled a nasty lieutenant’s canteen with mosquito repellent; the sounds of choppers and artillery fire; the slow dread that began building as word spread that in a day or two we’d be heading back to the bush. Pinkville, maybe. The Batangan Peninsula. Spooky, evil places where the land itself could kill you.
Now I stand in this patch of weeds, looking down on what used to be the old Alpha barracks. Amazing, really, what time can do. You’d think there would be something left, some faint imprint, but LZ (Landing Zone) Gator has been utterly and forever erased from the earth. Nothing here but ghosts and wind.”
My Favorite Place2
Starbucks has always been my go-to place. Never have I felt so welcomed with opened arms in an environment other than my home. Every time I enter through the translucent glass door, a familiar joyful barista in their signature bright green apron, shouts out “Welcome in!” My mood instantly lifts up and I already feel euphoric. I ambitiously make my way past the wall of signature coffees and desirable coffee mugs with the Starbucks logo of the twin-tailed crowned siren imprinted on them and join the lengthy line of famished customers anxiously standing along the crystal-clear polished pastry case. The layered case features its variety of heavenly, toothsome sweets along with their finest breakfast sandwiches displayed like trophies for everyone to admire. The pleasing scent of flakey butter croissants and toffee doodle cookies turn heads as it leaks its way out through the cracks of the pastry case. The scrumptious aroma of one of the slow-roasted ham and swiss breakfast sandwiches escapes out of the oven as one of the baristas pulls it out, finding its way on my lips and making my mouth water, I can almost taste it.
I listen to the indecisive girls in front of me. “Should I get a caramel macchiato or caramel latte?” says one of the brunettes with urgency as she slowly sways closer to the cashier. “Get an iced caramel macchiato!” shouts her eager friend. They place their order then move to the end of the bar chatting about how she forgot to order her drink iced. “What can I get for you today?” the attentive and neighborly barista says as she quickly takes out her sharpie. “Grande Ethiopia pour-over,” I say. I pay and take my receipt and make my way to the next counter. A smoky and rich, sweet-caramel breeze wafts up from the espresso machines, racing to my nose, almost strong enough to caffeinate me instantly. I wait patiently for my coffee, zoning out to the sound of milk being aeriated and the crushing sound of iced beverages being blended. My attention is caught by the black display boards hanging above the glossy brick wall behind the bar and register. I marvel at the handcrafted chalk drawings promoting the new seasonal drinks that adds a mellow character to the setting. Another amicable barista heads in my direction, handing me my intense hot black coffee with a cheery smile on her face. Earthy and acidity impressions hit my tongue when I take my first sip. My eyes begin to dilate as I start to unfold the soft and velvety layers of coffee with the hidden notes of dark cocoa and sweet citrus.
I observe the room, admiring its new and sleek modern architecture. The interior has custom murals and exposed brick walls which create a warm atmosphere. Reclaimed slick-smooth woods were used for the bars, tables and condiment stations. The lights in transparent dark-orange colored bulbs dangling from the ceiling, gives the shop a soft and warm hue, making the environment cozy. The chestnut colored tiles surround the bar and register. The smooth, cocoa colored wooden tables are distributed evenly around the mom. The enormous window walls naturally lights the room. I follow the space-grey colored stone bricks beneath my feet and make my way to the pleasantly-warm fireplace with a solid chrome black and gold metal rim around it. A vibrant picture of a green and orange oil painting of Kenya’s safari sits on the mantel above. This small spot gives the whole atmosphere a noticeable warm home feel.
Soft-toned jazz and enthusiastic conversations fill the room, blending harmoniously. A family of five surround one of the circular tables by the entrance, laughing and accusing one another of cheating when one loses at Uno. I can hear the sociable barista behind the bar engaging with one of the regulars about how each other’s weekend went. Other conversations are being made at the condiment bar with the three well-dressed gentlemen in navy blue suits and red ties with neatly combed hair talk about the overwhelming work week ahead as they sweeten their dark roast coffee with a variety of sweeteners and half and half. Several students have nested at one of the middle tables with their notebooks, laptops and pencils scattered in front of them. The constant clacking of their keyboards starts to create a steady beat. The alerting sound of a timer echoes through the room, going off every fifteen minutes to signal one of the baristas to brew a fresh pot of coffee. The buzzing noise of coffee grinding always follows.
This warm and welcoming, comfortable environment created here is why I always come back to Starbucks. It brings me a place of peace. It’s where I get my VIP treatment—my mind is put to ease and I can feel my muscles unclench from head-to-toe as I continuously take sips of my elegant and balanced coffee that I paired with my favorite soft and flavorful pumpkin loaf. It’s an oasis where I can clear my mind of distractions and focus on work or socialize with my friends or the familiar baristas. It’s my home away from home.
The Story of an Hour5 by Kate Chopin
This story is in the public domain.
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been.
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.
She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
But Richards was too late.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.
Excerpt from My Bondage and My Freedom6 by Frederick Douglass
I lived in the family of Master Hugh, at Baltimore, seven years, during which time—as the almanac makers say of the weather—my condition was variable. The most interesting feature of my history here, was my learning to read and write, under somewhat marked disadvantages. In attaining this knowledge, I was compelled to resort to indirections by no means congenial to my nature, and which were really humiliating to me. My mistress—who, as the reader has already seen, had begun to teach me was suddenly checked in her benevolent design, by the strong advice of her husband. In faithful compliance with this advice, the good lady had not only ceased to instruct me, herself, but had set her face as a flint against my learning to read by any means. It is due, however, to my mistress to say, that she did not adopt this course in all its stringency at the first. She either thought it unnecessary, or she lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was, at least, necessary for her to have some training, and some hardening, in the exercise of the slaveholder’s prerogative, to make her equal to forgetting my human nature and character, and to treating me as a thing destitute of a moral or an intellectual nature. Mrs. Auld—my mistress—was, as I have said, a most kind and tender-hearted woman; and, in the humanity of her heart, and the simplicity of her mind, she set out, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another.
It is easy to see, that, in entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, some little experience is needed. Nature has done almost nothing to prepare men and women to be either slaves or slaveholders. Nothing but rigid training, long persisted in, can perfect the character of the one or the other. One cannot easily forget to love freedom; and it is as hard to cease to respect that natural love in our fellow creatures. On entering upon the career of a slaveholding mistress, Mrs. Auld was singularly deficient; nature, which fits nobody for such an office, had done less for her than any lady I had known. It was no easy matter to induce her to think and to feel that the curly-headed boy, who stood by her side, and even leaned on her lap; who was loved by little Tommy, and who loved little Tommy in turn; sustained to her only the relation of a chattel. I was more than that, and she felt me to be more than that. I could talk and sing; I could laugh and weep; I could reason and remember; I could love and hate. I was human, and she, dear lady, knew and felt me to be so. How could she, then, treat me as a brute, without a mighty struggle with all the noble powers of her own soul. That struggle came, and the will and power of the husband was victorious. Her noble soul was overthrown; but, he that overthrew it did not, himself, escape the consequences. He, not less than the other parties, was injured in his domestic peace by the fall.
When I went into their family, it was the abode of happiness and contentment. The mistress of the house was a model of affection and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and feeling—“that woman is a Christian.” There was no sorrow nor suffering for which she had not a tear, and there was no innocent joy for which she did not a smile. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence. Once thoroughly broken down, who is he that can repair the damage? It may be broken toward the slave, on Sunday, and toward the master on Monday. It cannot endure such shocks. It must stand entire, or it does not stand at all. If my condition waxed bad, that of the family waxed not better. The first step, in the wrong direction, was the violence done to nature and to conscience, in arresting the benevolence that would have enlightened my young mind. In ceasing to instruct me, she must begin to justify herself to herself; and, once consenting to take sides in such a debate, she was riveted to her position. One needs very little knowledge of moral philosophy, to see where my mistress now landed. She finally became even more violent in her opposition to my learning to read, than was her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as her husband had commanded her, but seemed resolved to better his instruction. Nothing appeared to make my poor mistress—after her turning toward the downward path—more angry, than seeing me, seated in some nook or corner, quietly reading a book or a newspaper. I have had her rush at me, with the utmost fury, and snatch from my hand such newspaper or book, with something of the wrath and consternation which a traitor might be supposed to feel on being discovered in a plot by some dangerous spy.
Mrs. Auld was an apt woman, and the advice of her husband, and her own experience, soon demonstrated, to her entire satisfaction, that education and slavery are incompatible with each other. When this conviction was thoroughly established, I was most narrowly watched in all my movements. If I remained in a separate room from the family for any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called upon to give an account of myself. All this, however, was entirely too late. The first, and never to be retraced, step had been taken. In teaching me the alphabet, in the days of her simplicity and kindness, my mistress had given me the “inch,” and now, no ordinary precaution could prevent me from taking the “ell.”
Seized with a determination to learn to read, at any cost, I hit upon many expedients to accomplish the desired end. The plea which I mainly adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of using my young white playmates, with whom I met in the streets as teachers. I used to carry, almost constantly, a copy of Webster’s spelling book in my pocket; and, when sent of errands, or when play time was allowed me, I would step, with my young friends, aside, and take a lesson in spelling. I generally paid my tuition fee to the boys, with bread, which I also carried in my pocket. For a single biscuit, any of my hungry little comrades would give me a lesson more valuable to me than bread. Not every one, however, demanded this consideration, for there were those who took pleasure in teaching me, whenever I had a chance to be taught by them. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a slight testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them, but prudence forbids; not that it would injure me, but it might, possibly, embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offense to do any thing, directly or indirectly, to promote a slave’s freedom, in a slave state. It is enough to say, of my warm-hearted little play fellows, that they lived on Philpot street, very near Durgin & Bailey’s shipyard.
Although slavery was a delicate subject, and very cautiously talked about among grown up people in Maryland, I frequently talked about it—and that very freely—with the white boys. I would, sometimes, say to them, while seated on a curb stone or a cellar door, “I wish I could be free, as you will be when you get to be men.” “You will be free, you know, as soon as you are twenty-one, and can go where you like, but I am a slave for life. Have I not as good a right to be free as you have?” Words like these, I observed, always troubled them; and I had no small satisfaction in wringing from the boys, occasionally, that fresh and bitter condemnation of slavery, that springs from nature, unseared and unperverted. Of all consciences let me have those to deal with which have not been bewildered by the cares of life. I do not remember ever to have met with a boy, while I was in slavery, who defended the slave system; but I have often had boys to console me, with the hope that something would yet occur, by which I might be made free.
Between the World and Me: An Important Book on Race and Racism7 by David Saifer
Originally published and available via Tucson Weekly. Reproduced with permission from the author and publication.
I rarely read a book that I find to be transformative, that not only adds to my knowledge and understanding of an issue but significantly alters my way of thinking about it. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of those works. It’s a new book and currently sits at number two on the New York Times’ nonfiction best seller list.
Coates’ book is presented as a letter to his teenage son. It’s his attempt to describe what it’s like growing up black in present-day America from the inside out, using his own life as his touchstone. He presents his world from a personal, subjective point of view. This isn’t a sociological or political text. In the book Coates renders his confusion, his questions, his grief, his anger and his joys with literary clarity, and with a depth that can’t be captured in a dry, “objective” discussion of the issues.
It would be incorrect for me to say I “understand” the book. You can only understand the world he’s trying to capture if you’ve lived it, if you’ve felt it in your psyche and your nerve endings. Intellectual understanding, even combined with valiant attempts at empathy, can’t substitute for being there on a day by day, minute by minute basis. I’m an older, white, privileged male who does his best to comprehend the nature of racism in this country, but I know I’m looking at that world from the outside. Coates grants me the ability to get as close to what the life of a black man is like as any recent work I can think of.
People compare Coates’ book to James Baldwin’s electrifying 1963 work, The Fire Next Time. It’s a valid comparison, but for me, the experience of reading Between the World and Me is more like what I felt when I read Ralph Ellison’s great 1952 novel, Invisible Man. That’s the only other book I can remember that gave me the momentary sense of living the black experience, and helped me understand how distant it is from my experiences and how limited my understanding will always be.
This book deserves to join the literary canon alongside works by Baldwin, Ellison and Toni Morrison. So let me end by quoting what Morrison wrote about Between the World and Me.
I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.
(A text wrestling analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid)
Societal norms, as well as the skewed expectations of women in society, are in large part passed down from older generations (as well as often being enforced by older generations) to susceptible young children who are just beginning to form their own moral code. “Girl” is an unconventional poem, written by Jamaica Kincaid, that illustrates a mother’s detailed instructions on what her daughter must do in order for her to be accepted and successful in society at that time. Separated by semicolons, the mother relentlessly lists the rules and duties forced onto women at that time, never allowing her to intervene or even question what she was being told. This blind (almost mindless) list of expectations of women emphasizes the oppressed role that women are faced with, and often expected to comply with without question.
As children, our morals and values are shaped not only by our own experiences, but that of our family; wisdom, along with hard life lessons that have been learned over years and generations, are passed down from a mother to child. Although the identity of the narrator is never implicitly revealed, I believe that it is a mother passing on life lessons (as bleak as they may be) to her daughter. You can see this mother-daughter relationship best in Kincaid’s concluding lines, “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread? you mean to say after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (Kincaid 129). The italicized line signals that the daughter (or the “girl”) is speaking here. There is only one other instance in the poem where the daughter intervenes, interrupting her mother’s cascading list of teachings; early in the poem, the mother asks (or rather asserts), “is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?” and then later insists, “don’t sing benna in Sunday school” (128). Chiming in a bit late, the daughter defensively inserts, “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all, and never in Sunday school” (128). In this instance, the mother does not acknowledge o respond to what the daughter has said, rather just continues on with her sporadic list of instructions (like a chant of “this is how you…” and “don’t…”). This illustration of the mother as a clear authoritative figure that is educating her child of the gender roles that are present (and that must be followed!) in their present society is a great representation of how these notions survive and are passed down from teachings of older generations.
Concerning the structure of the poem “Girl”, I believe that Kincaid made the choice to make her poem into one large paragraph and use semicolons to separate the mother’s advice and commands (without ending the sentence) in order to convey that all of the items on the mother’s list are related in the sense that, when they are applied together, the sum of these actions and behaviors equals what societal and gender norms say it means to be a well-behaved woman. Having the poem structured this way also creates a sense of power for the mother figure because the discussion is extremely one-sided, and her unending breath creates the sense of urgency that she must get through everything she has to say, and she doesn’t even have time to stop and breath in between her lessons. For me, this urgency projects what I consider to be fear from the mother of what will happen to her daughter if she doesn’t learn these lessons or behave according to society. This fear is most likely rooted from her own negative personal experiences, as well as knowledge passed down from former generations.
The mother does not want her daughter to be rejected from or reprimanded by society. So, although the mother is delivering her advice in such way that seems cruel and impersonal, I believe that it emphasizes her seriousness and strong belief for what she is saying. Finally, I propose that this informal structure is a method meant to contrast the insignificance that the mother feels about proper grammar (or even proper education) with the importance she feels towards having her daughter behave as a proper, well-trained woman.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, Portable 12th edition, edited by Kelly J. Mays, Norton, 2017, pp. 127-129.
(A text wrestling analysis of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin)
A small child, alone, playing his new video game. A stay-at-home dad collapsing into his office chair at his computer after a long day at work. A successful businesswoman starting her day on the treadmill, sweat trickling down her temples. How many would be considered happy: all of them, perhaps none of them? The short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin describes a fictional town during its summer festival and the processions. The story is populated with contrasts and comparisons about the idea of happiness between Le Guin’s fictional society and ours, and it suggests reasons as to why both societies fall short of experiencing true joy.
A thought-provoking question arises early in Le Guin’s fairytale: “How is one to tell about joy?” (Le Guin 2), as if she is troubled by the idea of trying to describe joy to the reader. Perhaps she knows the reader will not understand happiness. For how can one understand happiness if they have never experienced it before? “We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy” (Le Guin 2). With the increase in technology and the rise in power of corporations, we have been receding from happiness. Every big event or holiday celebration is exploding with advertisements, informing us on more “stuff” we could have. Few of these advertisements, almost none, predict an enlightened future, free from overbearing material things. Instead, our celebrations should more similarly follow that of the summer festival of Omelas.
Le Guin begins her story describing the fictional town during its summer festival. This festival consists of different processions—one of them being dance— where citizens of the town celebrate in the streets. “In other streets the music beat faster, the shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing” (Le Guin 1). The people of Omelas crowd in the streets to play music and dance, enjoying in the company of their neighbors. One of the factors in this society’s happiness is dance. Later in the passage Le Guin goes on to describe a procession of nudes offering rituals of sex to members of society. “Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine soufflés to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions” (Le Guin 3). The joyful stimulation of lust: nothing brings more joy than a lover’s touch. But what else does a society need to be happy beside loving and dancing with others? How about children in the Omelas? Le Guin describes that children are raised communally in this fictional society: “Let the offspring of these rituals [processions of sex] be beloved and looked after by all” (Le Guin 3). In Omelas the infants and children are taken care of by the entire town. This symbolizes the unity in the town and the fact that everyone cares for one another. This may seem like a hard for people of today to grasp, because our society teaches us to only look out for ourselves and things that will stave off our never-ending hunger for joy. Although there are multiple endorphin producers that curb the appetite of reasonable happiness, there are many that set our society’s joy apart from this fictional town’s.
One of the main differences between Le Guin’s society and ours is the share we place in material items. Our society is caught up on material items, using them to assess personal happiness levels. This is a place of discord between the people in the fictional town and people today: “I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people” (Le Guin 3). The citizens of Omelas don’t take the same pride or comfort in objects as we do. The author is hinting to another reason our society is not happy. Le Guin feels that machines are no means of measuring happiness: the residents of Omelas “could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines… Or they could have none of it” (Le Guin 3). This follows from the idea that material items are not what makes these people happy. One of the biggest contrasts between our society and Omelas is the investment we put towards material possessions; people in Omelas thrive on a different kind of happiness.
The author then goes on to contrast the types of happiness and joy experienced by both groups of people: “The trouble is that we have a bad habit… of considering happiness as something rather stupid” (Le Guin 2). Le Guin is conveying the idea that when a society such as ours deems happiness as unimportant, we will start to lose all sense of the word. This is perhaps the reason our society values power, wealth, and weapons over happiness. When a culture condemns knowledge and praises violence, their reality of happiness becomes skewed.
The author continues the juxtaposition between her fictional society and ours: “The joy built upon the successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy” (Le Guin 4). Happiness is not something that can be bought, stolen, or won in battle, and joy isn’t found by means of power and pain for the people of Omelas. They don’t focus on violence and wealth: “But there is no king. They did not use swords or keep slaves…. [They] also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb” (Le Guin 2). She contrasts our society from theirs by highlighting these differences. The other main difference between the societies being the value we place on the harm and hurt of others.
However, Le Guin’s society may more closely resemble our society than first thought. The child, found in the basement tool closet of one of the town’s buildings, is described by the author as “feeble-minded” or “born defective” (Le Guin 5). It is kept there solely for the sake of the town’s happiness, enabling citizens in the streets above to reap joy from the festival. This compares to today’s society in the sense that people rush through life paying no attention to the needy or homeless, only seldom stealing a glance to reassure themselves that they do indeed have it better. This is where our society generates happiness; to know that we have it better than someone else somehow brings us joy. However, it is wrong for a population to remain happy based on the suffering of a single person or persons. The story goes on to describe that everyone in the town goes to see the child at least once, not one person offering a single shred of help to the poor, withering child. The people of Omelas know if they extended any means of help or gratitude to the child, the entire town will be stripped of all the joy and happiness they experience. This is a conscious choice the citizens must make daily: to idly stand by knowing of the suffering child.
Moreover, I infer that the author intended the child in the tool closet to have a much greater meaning. The child is an allusion to the idiom of “having skeletons in the closet.” It symbolizes the very thing that keeps everyone from experiencing true joy—“the right kind of joy” (Le Guin 4). As mentioned, Le Guin points out that the child is what holds this fictional town together, “They would like to do something for this child. But there is nothing they can do…. [If] it were cleaned and fed and comforted…, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed” (Le Guin 4). Much like the people of the town, we rely on past mistakes or haunting memories to sprout into the people we are today. In the story, there are members of society that can’t handle the guilt festering from knowing of the broken-down child, so they leave behind the “joyous” town. The ones who walk away from Omelas are searching for something more profound—the true meaning of happiness.
The biggest problem with our society is that we are too focused on individual gain and not enough on the happiness and well-being of everyone. We do not need video games, treadmills, or even cars and helicopters to be happy. Nor is happiness determined by account balances, high scores, and followers. While our society feels like we have a sense of joy and happiness it is truly a mask for selfish desires. This clouded iteration of happiness is what keeps us from experiencing true joy. While the fictional town might fall into similar shortcomings as we do, they are far closer to discovering what true joy exactly means. As Le Guin reiterates, what makes the fictional town joyous is a “boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest souls of all men” (Le Guin 4). While this might be close, the true meaning of happiness is the coming together of all individuals to take solace purely in the company of others while eradicating the suffering of all.
Le Guin, Ursula. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” The Unreal and the Real, Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands. Small Beer Press, 2012, pp. 1-7.
Moonlight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Inauthenticity, Inadequacy, and Transience: The Failure of Language in “Prufrock”10
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” widely regarded as the work that brought T.S. Eliot into a position of influence and prominence amongst his literary contemporaries, delineates the psychosocial trappings of a first-person speaker struck by the impossibility of identity, interaction, and authenticity in a modern society. Although the poem establishes J. Alfred Prufrock, a typical ‘anti-hero’ of modernist style, as its speaker and central focus, Eliot seeks to generalize to a broader social commentary: the piece reveals the paralyzing state of universal disempowerment in social interaction by exploring a broken system of signification and identity.
Eliot’s poem filters its communication through the first-person speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock; however, the audience is implicated directly and indirectly in the consciousness of Prufrock. Ironically, the central conflict of the poem is the subject’s inability to engage and communicate with the world around him. However, in multiple fashions, even in the very process of performance and reading of the poem, we the audience are interpellated into Prufrock’s hellish existence. The epigraph of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” draws from Dante’s Inferno, immediately conjuring the idea of Hell for the audience. The epigraph, in conjunction with the first line of the piece—“Let us go then, you and I” (1)—and the repetition of second-person and collective first-person pronouns, implicates the reader in an implied tour of Prufrock’s personal Hell, a state of imprisonment within his own consciousness.
Prufrock is a speaker characterized first and foremost by overwhelming fear and alienation, stemming from his hypersensitivity to time, his disillusionment with the failure of communication, and his inability to construct a stable self. He frequently questions his capacity to relate to those around him, wondering repeatedly, “[H]ow should I presume?” (54, 61). Prufrock, worrisome over the audacity implicit in presumption and fearful of the consequences, hesitates to engage at all, instead setting himself in frustrated isolation and insecurity. Throughout the work, Eliot insists that one of the few certainties of Prufrock’s bleak existence is, paradoxically, uncertainty: from Prufrock’s overarching and unnamed “overwhelming question” (10) to the oft-quoted “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach” (122), the clearest recurring element of the poem is Prufrock’s equivocation. The ambiguity of consequence is too dangerous for Prufrock. He is concerned that his participation in society shall “disturb the universe” (45) and so chooses rather to retreat into his tangled web of hypotheticals.
Eliot symbolizes the society Prufrock so fears in the third stanza as a yellow fog, invading the descriptions of the architecture and appearance of the city.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. (15-22)
The description of this yellow fog is animalistic and untamed. Its presence is quiet but oppressive, weighing heavily on the tone of the poem with the sort of gaseous intractability and inescapability of our fluid and chaotic social formation and the hegemony that it relies upon. The yellow fog figuratively permeates the entire piece, ubiquitous and stifling, but most evidently as it encroaches on Prufrock’s discussion and distortion of time, beginning in the following stanza.
While the third stanza most overtly draws attention to Prufrock’s temporal hyper-awareness (using the frequent repetition of the word “time”), Eliot constructs an underlying theme of impermanence as early as the epigraph and first stanza of the poem. The original speaker of the epigraph, Guido da Montefeltro, reminds us of the imprisoning and irreversible flow of time, and signal words like “one-night” (6) and “tedious” (8) in the first stanza highlight a hyper-awareness of time. In spite of Prufrock’s implied worldview that genuine social interaction is dangerous, impossible, or even futile, he is painfully aware of the disappearance of opportunity within his hesitation. He admits, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (51), “I grow old … I grow old …” (120), and, reflecting on his imprisonment, wonders, “[H]ow should I begin / To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?” (59-60). In his position of retrospect, Prufrock imbues a clear tone of regret and loss, noting that he has expended most of his life in apprehension; he links his spent time to the humdrum by means of the “coffee spoons,” to the useless and disposable by means of “butt-ends.” By integrating a theme of transience and a tone of urgency, Eliot begins to explore Prufrock’s social fears while also preparing to demonstrate the failure of language, as I discuss later. Considering the entanglement of the reader in the poem’s exploration of Prufrock’s psychological torture, we read that transience and mortality command all of our day-to-day actions and interactions—and how could this not leave us terrified and alienated like Prufrock himself?
As a consequence of such social fear and detachment, Eliot suggests, Prufrock struggles to establish public or personal identity: because he cannot truly associate with other members of his world, he cannot classify himself within a framework of socially-defined identity. Prufrock frames his failure to adopt an archetype using a strikingly dehumanizing synecdoche: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (73-74). Prufrock finds it more fitting that he be separated from the species than to continually find himself inadequate to the measure of social roles. These lines directly precede a process in which Prufrock evades commitment (as we learn is characteristic) by presenting three models of which he falls short, and then discarding the possibility of ever identifying his purpose.
First, Prufrock summons John the Baptist as a prototype by envisioning his own “head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter” (82), but then immediately negates the comparison in the next line: “I am no prophet” (83). Prufrock identifies with the tragic, violent end of John the Baptist, reminding us of his overwhelming fear of the outside world. He makes clear that he can relate only to the death of the man, but not to the life: Prufrock believes that he lacks some essence of a prophet—perhaps charisma or confidence, perhaps respectability or status.
Prufrock seeks to find a more apt comparison, now considering a person as socially tortured as he but who ultimately discovered meaning. Prufrock attempts to adopt a different Biblical figure as a model of identity:
Would it have been worth while […]
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.” (90-98)
By invoking the character of Lazarus,1 Prufrock hopes to procure an archetype which fits him better than that of John the Baptist. However, Prufrock realizes that this mold is not adequate either; he questions whether he could interact with someone even with the support of enlightening, didactic knowledge of the afterlife. In so doing, he effectively ‘tries on’ an identity, only to abandon it upon fear of being misunderstood.
Ultimately, Prufrock comments on the ignobility of his very equivocation: “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” (111). Prufrock is intensely aware of his reluctance to commit, to make a decision, reminiscent of the tragic Dane—but he actively degrades himself by rejecting the comparison. He suggests that, if anything, he is only fit to be a supporting character, and even then, only an obsequious and foolish one.
[I am] an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At time, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool. (112-9)
After the adoption and abandonment of three ambitious archetypes (John the Baptist, Lazarus, and Hamlet), Prufrock’s “almost” in lines 118 and 119 tells us that he is even reluctant to embody a supporting character with a clearly defined role. Again, considering the involvement of the reader in Prufrock’s plight, Eliot tells us that the literary and social characters which shape our models of human identity are inauthentic—that perhaps we are all destined to be no more than backing players to fill out a scene, or if we are lucky, provide comic relief.
To better understand Prufrock’s disenfranchisement, we must recognize Eliot’s portrayal of human interaction as broken, inadequate, and false. Within the structure of the poem, Eliot seems to imply the inadequacy of direct communication through circuitous, repetitious, and ambiguous text. Even as Prufrock introduces his “overwhelming question,” he almost simultaneously refuses our inquiry to understand what he communicates—“Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” (9-10). By first calling attention to the ever-fleeting moments of time to instill a tone of haste, and then exacerbating those feelings with Prufrock’s continued hesitation, Eliot highlights the infinite insufficiency of language. Even though there will be “time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea” (27-34), “in a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (47-48). Eliot’s recursive language implies that while there is time, each moment will be inevitably filled with the paralyzing equivocation that we have come to expect from Prufrock. In a frustrated interjection, Prufrock sums it up well: “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” (104).
More subtly, though, Eliot incorporates only a few voices aside from Prufrock himself, and it is these characters who especially illuminate the alienating nature of interaction and language for Prufrock. It is important to note that while the entirety of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” seems to be an argumentative internal monologue within Prufrock’s consciousness, Eliot provides brief voices from hypothetical speakers imagined through the mediation of Prufrock’s mind.
The unnamed women of the poem are particularly telling: “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” (35-6). This seeming non sequitur is repeated twice within the course of four stanzas. Between the two occurrences of this sentence, Prufrock reassures us (and, in turn, himself) that “there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” (26-27). Eliot combines a deliberate absence of identifying characteristics of these women, the phrase “come and go,” and a reference to inauthenticity of identity; this combination implies that these women are fungible, and that their commentary on the celebrated artist is merely a façade to suggest sophistication. They offer no substance of interaction beyond falsehood, flowing in and out of a room with identical, generic conversation while bearing contrived faces, formulated only to meet other contrived faces. In this way, Prufrock is disillusioned and discouraged from communication, realizing his mistrust of language for its inherent unreliability. We, in turn, are encouraged to perceive and reject the duplicity of common social interaction.
The subsequent hypothetical speakers in the poem seem to explain and rationalize Prufrock’s fears. In their sole moments of voice throughout the entire text, Prufrock insists that these speakers will criticize his appearance—“How his hair is growing thin!” (41) and “But how his arms and legs are thin!” (44)—or his failure to communicate, saying, “That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all” (97-98, 109-110). Considering his anxieties of language, it is no surprise that Eliot’s character recognizes the quickly-misunderstood nature of communication beyond the superficial “talk of Michelangelo.” Nevertheless, Prufrock fears criticism for inadequacies which he must already recognize in himself: his deteriorating physical appearance, wasting away with each measured-out coffee spoon, or his inability to control language. This tension, this certainty of degrading or misconstrued response, further contributes to Eliot’s implication of a broken system of language as embodied in Prufrock’s alienation.
The penultimate voices Prufrock imagines, the mermaids, identify Prufrock’s proximity to interaction. In another moment of doubt and seemingly scattered thought, Prufrock tells us he has “heard the mermaids singing, each to each” (124). These mermaids symbolize Prufrock’s last appeal for communicative redemption. But alas, Prufrock realizes his isolation—“I do not think that they will sing to me” (125)—and it is human language itself leaves us with the final crushing words of the poem:
I have seen them [the mermaids] riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. (126-31)
This final contrast serves to remind us that while Prufrock is close enough to hear, close enough to “linger in the chambers of the sea,” such hopes are dream-like, tenuous, ultimately shattered by human voices and all-engulfing reality. The reader will note that Prufrock and Eliot have shifted back to the collective first-person pronoun “we” for the final stanza, and distinguish in line 130 that the referent is not the sea-girls and Prufrock, but rather Prufrock and another party; we can reasonably interpret the other party is the audience. Eliot is illuminating once again that the plight of J. Alfred Prufrock and the plight of all humanity are parallel in their morbidity, futility, and failure. It is not just Prufrock who drowns; it is us.
J. Alfred Prufrock’s quest to construct a genuine, personal expression—a “love song,” even—results in an excursion through the infernal frustration of Prufrock’s psychosocial imprisonment. In his portrayal of this character’s alienation, indecision, fear, and disillusionment, T.S. Eliot demands that we too, wandering through certain half-deserted streets, are victims of the putrid yellow-smoke society around us: the snares of inauthentic identity, broken language, and constantly vanishing time.
Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Seagull Reader: Poems, 2nd edition, edited by Joseph Kelly, Norton, 2008, pp. 109-114.
by Jarune Uwuajaren and Jamie Utt. Available via .11
Economics and Obesity12
Eating healthy can be difficult for everyone. You have to figure out what is healthy and find out what diet fits your goals, then you have the struggle of actually sticking to the diet and avoiding the temptation of junk food. However, eating a nutritious diet can become even more complicated if you are poor and live in a low-income area. Healthy food is too expensive for low-income people, forcing them to buy cheaper and less healthy alternatives. People may not even have access to unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, if they live in poor neighborhoods that do not have a grocery store or supermarket. The lack of access to affordable, healthy, and unprocessed foods leads to an increased rate of obesity for low-income people, and current policies and interventions are not effective and need to be changed to help decrease rates of obesity.
Obesity has been a problem in the United States for a long time. In the 1980s, the number of obese people began to increase rapidly. The percentage of obese adults went from 15.0% in 1980 to 32.9% in 2004, more than doubling (Hurt 781). Obesity can be extremely damaging to the body and can lead to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. It is clear and has been for a long time, that obesity is an epidemic in America, and researchers are trying to find the cause. Obesity is commonly associated with people picking food solely based on taste and not on nutritional content, leading them to choose delicious junk food over nutritious vegetables. While this is true for some, the rates of obesity were found to be higher in American counties that were poverty-dense (Levine 2667). This is not the only study to find that obesity affects the poor more than others, as a study ran by U.S. Government found that rates of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases were highest in the most impoverished populations (Story 261). Obesity is affecting those who are least able to cope with it, as obesity and related chronic diseases can have a serious economic impact on people, especially those with diabetes. People with diabetes spend around 2.3 times as much on general medical care a year than someone without diabetes, and on average a diabetic person spends about $7,900 a year just on medical expenses associated with diabetes (Yang 1033). These costs are extremely damaging to low-income people who may already have trouble getting by as it is, and it is important that the economic causes of obesity are examined so that policies and interventions can be designed to help protect public health.
Higher rates of obesity in low-income areas has been associated with a lack of access to healthy foods. Many of these low-income areas are classified as food deserts, meaning there is nowhere to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, or other unprocessed foods. The nearest grocery store or supermarket can be over a mile away, as it is for Casey Bannister a resident of East Portland, Oregon. The closest grocery store to her is a mile and a half away, which can be hard for her to walk or bike especially when she has bags of groceries (Peacher). This is a common problem for many Americans who also live in food deserts. Many people have to rely solely on nearby convenience stores for food. These stores rarely sell fresh fruits, vegetables, or unprocessed meats and have a large selection of unhealthy foods. Along with that, the convenience stores found in low-income areas were more often small, independent stores which sold food for higher prices than chain stores (Beaulac), meaning consumers in poor neighborhoods were spending more there than they would in stores found in higher-income neighborhoods.
There is an appealingly simple answer to food deserts: add a grocery store. However, merely adding a grocery store is not going to solve the obesity problem in impoverished areas, as that is only one part of the problem. According to a study run by researcher Steven Cummins, the stores added to food deserts in Philadelphia did not impact that amount of fruits and vegetables consumed. He attributed this to many causes, including the fact that the kind of stores added may not necessarily sell cheaper food (Corapi). While food deserts do contribute to obesity, the main economic cause is more likely the price of healthy, nutritious food. A healthy diet is too expensive to be accessible to low-income people and families, even if they do have access to a supermarket.
Nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, while healthy, are low in calories. Unhealthier foods have high amounts of calories for a much lower cost, making them extremely appealing to families on a budget. These calories are made up of grains and starches as well as added fats and sugars, which have been linked to an increased risk for obesity (Drewnowski 265S). Foods like these are quite clearly unhealthy, however, health must be disregarded when it is the only thing a person can afford to eat. A study by the American Diabetes Association found that on average healthy diets cost $18.16 per thousand calories, while unhealthy diets only cost $1.76 per thousand calories (Parker-Pope). Based on a person who needs two thousand calories a day, it would cost roughly $1,089.60 a month for one person to eat a healthy diet when an unhealthy diet would cost $105.60 a month. This means that a person eating a nutritious diet would spend over ten times as much as a person eating a nutrient deficient diet. People who earn minimum wage, especially those that have more than one person to support, cannot spend this much on food a month and are forced to instead buy unhealthier options and put themselves at a higher risk for obesity.
Influences such as the convenience of unhealthy food and advertisements may also impact the rates of obesity in low-income areas and populations. It is important that they are acknowledged as well before designing new policies or interventions, so that all possible causes and factors of obesity may be addressed. Unhealthy food, for example, fast food is almost always convenient and simple, as most foods come already cooked and ready to be eaten. While healthy food is usually raw and unprocessed, meaning it has to be prepared before being served. Cooking a proper meal can take an hour or more, and many working people do not have the time. Also, cooking requires a lot of knowledge about recipes and how to prepare raw food, as well as expensive resources like pots, pans, and knives. Fast food is quick and requires no prior knowledge about cooking food or any equipment, making it an easy choice for those who are poor or busy. Food advertisements may also influence people’s choices. Most food advertisements seen on TV are for fast food and show this food as extremely desirable and a good deal. This may affect people’s choices and make them more likely to buy fast food, as it is shown as delicious and within their budget. While these influences are unlikely to be the main cause of high rates of obesity for low-income people, it is still important that they are examined and thought of while interventions are being made.
With the obesity epidemic being so detrimental to individual’s health, people and government have been pushing for interventions and policies to help fight against obesity. Some interventions have helped bring fruits and vegetables to low-income families and neighborhoods. Food pantries have been vitally important to providing food in food deserts. Saul Orduna, another resident of East Portland, lives in a food desert and gets about half to two-thirds of his groceries from the SUN food pantry. They provide him and his two children with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as milk, eggs, and bread. It is an important service for his family, as he only has $380 a month for food (Peacher). Services like this help bring food to those who cannot afford or access it, however, they are not a good long-term solution to food insecurity. Other policies and interventions have been suggested that are likely to have more negative effects. The taxation of junk food, particularly high-calorie beverages, has been proposed to discourage people from purchasing unhealthy foods and hopefully lower obesity rates (Drewnowski 265S). Taxing unhealthy foods might be a good incentive for middle and high income people to buy healthier food. However, without lowering the price of nutritional food, policies like this will only put more of an economic burden on low-income people and make it harder for them to get any food at all.
New policies and interventions are needed, and it is necessary that they address the many different influences on the rates of obesity, including access, price, and advertising. Tax subsidies implemented on healthy foods, such as unprocessed meats, fruits, and vegetables, would encourage people to buy that instead of other options. It is important that if tax subsidies are put on healthy food that it is advertised to the public. Advertising on TV and in stores could be used alongside tax subsidies to promote the newly affordable, healthy choices and make them seem more desirable. Putting healthy foods in the front of stores so that they are the first thing people see, rather than unhealthier options like chips and candy, would also help people choose more nutritious foods over other choices. These may seem like small changes; however, they could have a huge impact.
Education may also play an important part in lowering rates of obesity. Nutrition is extremely complicated, and there are some who may have never learned what is healthy and what is not. Others may know what is healthy, yet they do not know how to prepare and use such foods. Free community education classes could be used to teach people about health and nutrition. Along with cooking classes to teach people how to properly prepare and cook vegetables and fruits. Both of these classes would help inform people about their own health and build their confidence in choosing and preparing food. Classes may also be helpful for teaching skills other than nutrition and cooking. In an interview with the researcher Steven Cummins, he stated that “We have to think very carefully about giving people the skills to make better decisions when they’re in stores, as well as providing access to the stores in the first place” (Corapi). He brings up an important point about the importance of teaching people how to manage their money properly and how to find good deals on healthy food. A class teaching these kinds of skills could help people be more organized and deliberate in what they buy.
The obesity epidemic in low-income populations is a complex problem that has been going on for a long time. The answer sadly is not simple and is going to require involvement from the government, stores, and the communities of America. Until people are able to afford and access food themselves, it is important that people continue to support food banks and pantries, like the Oregon Food Bank, as they provide vital assistance to those who are food-insecure. Solving the problem of obesity in impoverished areas is going to be complicated, however, the result will have more people with equal access to nutritious, healthy food and lower rates of obesity.
Hurt, Ryan T., et al. “The Obesity Epidemic: Challenges, Health Initiatives, and Implications for Gastroenterologists.” Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 6, no. 12, 2010, pp. 780-792. US National Library of Medicine, .
Peacher, Amanda. “East Of 82nd: Raising Children In A ‘Food Desert’.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 18 Feb. 2015.
Student Veterans and Their Struggle with Higher Education13
Did you know that student veterans are one of the largest and most diverse sub-cultures to matriculate into higher education in America? Ever since the inception of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the enrollment of service members post-military-service has skyrocketed. “Institutions have not faced such a significant influx of veteran students on campus since World War II” (Cook iii). Although they receive years of extensive training in military service, the skills that vets have learned are generally not immediately transferrable into civilian employment. With an abysmal job market, most service members are forced into higher education to obtain employment. The passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was the most significant increase in education benefits for service members and veterans since the original G.I. Bill of 1944; however, recent data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shows that only a small percentage of veterans use all of their federal education benefits (Lighthall 81). According to American College Testing (ACT), in the United States approximately one in four freshmen do not return after their first year and almost half will not graduate—but the statistic is significantly worse for veterans (Cass 23). Billions of dollars are lost annually on freshman attrition and wasted G.I. Bill benefits (Ibid.). Why do so many service members struggle to succeed during their transition into higher education? The answer may vary from veteran to veteran, but they underlying theme is an inability to successfully transition from a highly structured military lifestyle into a self-sustaining civilian one.
One major challenge faced by veterans is social reintegration after war. The well-known saying “War changes people” is profoundly true. Although not all vets see combat, it cannot be denied that the experience of battle is physically, emotionally, and spiritually damaging. Other students who have not served can never truly understand this. The people—students and faculty—have no understanding of what student veterans have been through, causing a feeling of alienation (Lighthall 84). Universities have long been a place where young people develop a purpose in life and make friends, but for many veterans, it can have the opposite effect. In “Lonely Men on Campus: Student Veterans Struggle to Fit In,” Alex Horton writes a case study on a combat veteran struggling from this difficulty with social integration. He explains Josh Martell’s experience: “He has quarantined himself almost entirely. He shows up for class, takes notes, and leaves, most of the time without communicating with students or professors” (Horton). Josh isolated himself, never saying “more than a few words to anyone” (Ibid.). This behavior is not abnormal: it is a reaction many veterans exhibit when they go to college. Horton explains how this reclusive behavior betrays the man Josh really is, explaining that he has transformed into an introvert. For many veterans, the feeling of being different or not relating to other students creates a feeling of isolation (Cass 29). Alienation from the student body certainly contributes to veteran attrition.
Coupled with this feeling of isolation, college campuses can have a drastic culture shock for veterans. During their years spent in the military, people in the service are inextricably tied to some sort of social system, and solitude is rare or even absent altogether. In “Ten Things You Should Know about Today’s Student Veteran,” Alison Lighthall explains how the many vets lose friends upon leaving the military, as well as a sense of purpose, identity, and structure. This can push anyone to their limit. Lighthall goes on to say that the unfamiliar social system of the university has no resemblance to the military. Classes and assignments might have less structure or looser expectations. They might require more self-management of time rather than following a strict schedule.
For myself, being a student veteran, I have faced many of these same struggles during my transition into higher education. I purposefully never solicit that I am a veteran unless I need to. It’s not that I’m not proud of it, or even that I am ashamed of anything I have done; it’s because I don’t want to feel any more singled out than I already do. I also find that people either have strong feelings against the military or simply have no understanding of what myself or other veterans have gone through. I try to avoid hearing questions like, “Did you know anyone who died?” or, “Have you killed anyone?” After spending years always surrounded by military personnel and within a unique culture, it is very difficult to relate to and want to be around college students. Like Josh, I find myself wanting to be alone rather than attempt to connect with my classmates.
Another major barrier for student veterans are the physical and mental health challenges that might have resulted from their service. This is another place where the vast majority of Americans who choose not to join the military do not have the context to understand the experience. Witnessing your best friend get blown apart or shot is a massive shock and emotionally devastating. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) haunts many of today’s student veterans and further hinders their education. This is not to mention the risk of physical disability that veterans take when they enroll in service. Because of anxiety or injury related disorders, some veterans may show up to class late or even miss class. Other may show up early to orient themselves in a seat that has a full view of the classroom to reduce the sense of a physical threat (Lighthall 88). During class, they may have trouble staying focused or have difficulty composing themselves. They may struggle to process the information or skills being taught (Ibid. 85). Teachers should be aware of these challenges and support veterans in their learning and access needs.
Many veterans that suffer from PTSD go undiagnosed and attempt to live, work, and go to school without seeking aid (Cook 8-9). The mentality instilled in them is to not be a victim, and many student veterans fight PTSD without any assistance. Because of the stigma around PTSD and a veteran’s desire to be self-sufficient, a student veteran might not seek help from Disability Services, the tutoring centers, or other on-campus resources.
Universities may be logistically suited to help veterans return to civilian life; however, the disconnected social experience, age discrepancies, and unique challenges make it difficult for them to seek help. Faculty and university officials are beginning to understand this issue as the veteran population steadily rises, but it may not be fast enough to help current student veterans. Helping this diverse subculture in today’s universities starts first with awareness and an understanding of their needs. Educators should reach out to them with compassion and respect, accommodate their individual learning needs, and most importantly, see them as unique people who chose to serve our country and endured burdens beyond anything we could imagine. It could make all the difference to that student veteran. It might even mean the difference between finding success in life, or ending up lost, jobless, and homeless.
Cass, David. The Strategic Student: Veteran’s Edition, Uvize, 2012.
“Our Town” from This American Life
“The Unfinished Battle in the Capital of the Confederacy” from Code Switch
See pages 90-91 of Nickel and Dimed, book by Barbara Ehrenreich.14
Excerpt: Self-restraint becomes more of a challenge when the owner of a million-dollar condo … takes me into the master bathroom to explain the difficulties she’s been having with the shower stall. Seems its marble walls have been “bleeding” onto the brass fixtures, and can I scrub the grouting extra hard? That’s not your marble bleeding, I want to tell her, it’s the worldwide working class—the people who quarried the marble, wove your Persian rugs until they went blind, harvested the apples in your lovely fall-themed dining room centerpiece, smelted the steel for the nails, drove the trucks, put up this building, and now bend and squat to clean it.
Not that I … imagine that I am a member of that oppressed working class. My very ability to work tirelessly hour after hour is a product of decades of better-than-average medical care, a high-protein diet, and workouts in gyms that charge $400 or $500 a year. … But I will say this for myself: I have never employed a cleaning person or service…. [M]ostly I rejected the idea … because this is just not the kind of relationship I want to have with another human being. (In 1999, somewhere between 14 and 18 percent of households employed an outsider to do the cleaning and the numbers are rising dramatically. Mediamark research reports a 53 percent increase, between 1995 and 1999, in the number of households using a hired cleaner or service once a month or more….)
(TV series by Ellen Page)
(Documentary – ISBN: 9780781513449)
Why Boston’s Hospitals Were Ready
(New Yorker article, informed by research)