Monday, February 21, 2011

Tasty Freedom

The real power of writing is to capture life, in all its complexities. To somehow express in words the absurdities and subtleties of our world today, to convey those human emotions we don't even have words for. To me, a great book or great piece of writing can truly paint the world as it is, as it could be, as we think it is but isn't. It should stagger you with the simplicity of its truth.

One of the best books I have ever read is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I read it last fall after being bombarded by the hype surrounding it. It surpassed my expectations.

Recommending this book is a bit of a tough sell to make. If asked what it's about, all I can really say is that it's a family drama. And that's it. Not much to pull you in. But that's not really what the book is. It's... life. In a book.

The most striking feature of the book was the characters. I am most positive that I have never read such believable characters in my life. Honest to God. That Franzen was able to create these people, bring them into life, people as real you or me- it is an accomplishment and testament to his talent.

It is the story of a family- Patty, the basketball-star turned housewife, directionless in life, married a man she was not attracted to. Her husband, Walter, the do-gooder who only wants to save the world, despite the world's rough treatment of him. Their children. Jessica, so little mentioned I struggled to remember her name (was she not a main character because she was the sole character who seemed to not destroy her life?), and Joey, their fascinatingly complex son with terrifying amounts of ambition, redeemed only by his love for depressive Connie.

I could easily continue to go into the slew of other complicated characters (people) who enrich this novel, but I would run the risk of simply rewriting Franzen's masterpiece, and I would do it no where near as well. (Read it!)

Beyond his intricate and incredible realistic portrayal of the human psyche and human relationships, Franzen beautifully snapshots the world as it is today- who we are, what we do and what the fuck is wrong with us. Our politics, our wars, our heroes, our social disconnect.

And, of course, Freedom. Is it a gift, a responsibility, a burden, a curse? With such endless choices and decisions in life, and the freedom to go any way we choose, are we liberated or weighed-down by limitless opportunity? As a nation, do we carry the "responsibility of democracy"- are we responsible for promoting our ideals around the world, or is this just a fancy new way to carry out the "white man's burden?"

I'll wrap this up with a brief request. Please read this book.

Revamps and Resurrections

This blog began over a year ago as I prepared to spend over four months living abroad in Thailand.

The lesson learned- when you are living next the the ocean in a tropical country, traveling throughout Southeast Asia and having every sort of adventure from riding elephants to zip-lining through the jungle, you don't want to be inside writing about it. You want to be outside doing it.

As I began the process of bringing this blog back to life, I feel a sense of regret for having not recorded the experience more thoroughly. But as I reflect on all I did and incredible life-changing experience I had, I know I would do it all again. Given the choice, I would spend those same hours walking down the beach in the sun over sitting inside writing about it.

Back in Missouri at the tail-end of winter, time indoors writing is far from a sacrifice. But then the question arises- could anything in my life now be a worth sharing as adventures in Thailand?

I am finishing sixth semester of college, and the thought of graduation and the Future is looming ever nearer. I intend to spend my first summer not at home, but remain here in St. Louis to pursue an internship for the season. I hope to study abroad once more in the fall, this time in the Netherlands. I finally return to my work study job this week, working as a reading tutor in high-need primary schools.

Somewhere in all of that, I imagine there will be a story or two. They may not be the tales of high-adventure and intrigue I may have told while in Thailand, but I look forward to sharing them just the same.