ECUAD Musings

Art students. You can pick them out easy as pie. Converging towards Emily Carr University, it’s the pink/purple/green/blue hair that is the biggest giveaway. REALLY big pants. Shoes that look like candy. Extremely introverted looking kids, dressed in extremely extroverted looking clothes. Kind of an endearing juxtaposition. Like they would die if someone noticed them, but are screaming to be seen.

A car drives by, rolls down the window, “It’s not Halloween girls!”. A girl in a BlackPink t-shirt under a neon corsette looks mortified. Her friend (muted in a monochromatic unicorn onesie, including hood and feet) flips the bird at the driver. They laugh. All the weirdos gravitate towards the school. Once within a 100 metre radius of campus, they are in the safety of the clan.

First session, architecture. What architecture is memorable to you? I think of the skinny houses on Lombard Street in SF, the steps outside the Gerkin in London, that museum in Paris where all the things that are supposed to be on the inside are on the outside, my grandmother’s house. We talk about scale, we learn about different types of architectural drawings. We have homework. We are going to build models.

Next class. Jordi asks, “What is design?”. Um. Design is creating a plan to make something. Thinking about how that thing looks, how it feels, how it works. We explore Frank Ghery, Zaha Hadid, we look at Bauhaus. Ew Bauhaus. If someone were to ask me, what is ‘Bauhaus’?, I would reply, it is German for ‘uncomfortable chair’. Hm! We are going to design chairs!

BNW Personal Response: “Blissfully Ignorant of Passion”

“People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about . . .”

                ~Mustapha Mond, Brave New World

One emotion. Happiness. At all costs. Would you forfeit your human rights, your free will, your creativity if you could feel happy all the time? How far would you go in the pursuit of constant happiness?

What stuck me the most about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, is the concept of a society whose main goal is maintaining happiness. They believe happiness equals stability. And the World State takes furious measures to stay happy. Growing babies in hatcheries? Sure! Mass state-sanctioned drug use and recreational sex? Why not! Constant brainwashing propaganda? Definitely! Anything to avoid feeling.

When my grandfather died, I had never felt such extreme sadness in my entire life. I felt it in my whole body. It was horrible. Absolute despair, and pain I thought would never go away. Yet, even in the worst moments of grief, there is no way I would trade any of it away, if it meant not having had that connection with my grandad.

In contrast, citizens in Huxley’s World State don’t know love. Or connection. Or art. They know soma. They know feelies. And they know hypnopaedia. They use tools to avoid grief, jealousy, and sorrow. While their society might be stable, it is dull and artificial.

One emotion. Only happiness. Like painting in only one colour, or composing a song using only one chord, forever. That is definitely not for me. To me, it is the range of highs and lows, of shadows and highlights, and of all the notes in between, that make up a human experience worth living. 

Responding to Huxley’s Brave New World, life in Mustapha Mond’s artificial society “blissfully ignorant of passion”, sounds to me like plodding through a monotonous desensitized existence in a beige version of hell.

IRJE # 6; Why Comics are a Valid Form of Reading

In Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner confronts supercilious attitudes directed at audiences and auteurs of sequential art. Eisner examines comics as a distinct art and literary form, as well as an ancient means of creative expression. Challenging those who dismiss it as immature, Eisner promotes the scholarly discussion of comics as a valid form of reading.

The format of comics presents a montage of both word and image, and the reader is thus required to exercise both visual and verbal interpretive skills. The regimens of art (e.g., perspective, symmetry, line) and the regimens of literature (e.g., grammar, plot, syntax) become superimposed upon each other. The reading of a graphic novel is an act of both aesthetic perception and intellectual pursuit. (p. 2)

Eisner’s assertion feels both revelatory and affirming. I find the entire concept of cultural hierarchy absurd. How ironic is it to view the reading of comic books as ‘lowbrow’, yet flock to museums and galleries, fawning over early tapestries, friezes, hieroglyphics and other illustrated narrations? They are all comics! Sequential art is one of the the earliest methods of expression. Let us put away unwarranted contempt, and explore the enduring power of graphic storytelling for sharing ideas and telling our stories.


FYI – For those who find prizes validating, the Pulitzer Prizer for literature has twice been awarded to graphic novels (in 1992, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and in 2018, Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan).

Personal Writing #5: Murmel

“Who IS Lucas Murmel?”

“MurMEL! The emphasis is on the second syllable! It’s FRENCH!”. Lucas slammed his script down on the table, equally upsetting a paper cup of coffee, and a fragile looking production assistant. 

The cast and crew were accustomed to Lucas’ fiery temper, but today was a bad day. Even for him. They looked around uneasily, trying not to stare at the bulging vein, threatening to burst, on their director’s scarlet forehead. 

Opening night for the play was fast approaching. Lucas Murmel’s autobiographical play, The Cashmere Vitruvian, was the talk of town. Anyone who was anyone would attend. The glitterati of the West End would not miss this event. 

Lucas had long been an enigmatic figure in the theatre world. Equally known for his string of hit plays as he was for his sequestered lifestyle, Lucas Murmel was an extremely private man. Yet, in two night’s time, this elusive individual would be (literally) drawing back the curtains, and letting the public have a peek in.

“I am not a compulsive liar. I did not cry yesterday. I do not feel a gripping sense of sadness and despair”, Lucas muttered to himself. 

Tension was palpable, no one knew quite where to look. Everyone pretended not to notice. Their esteemed director was moaning in a crumpled, soggy heap on centre stage.

BNW SQCE Reading Response; Stability Over Individuality

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley depicts a complacent society void of individuality, creativity, and critical thinking. By manufacturing human beings, and mind conditioning them into passive submission, leaders of the World State ensure the stability of society. The Hatchery not only predetermines the caste of humans, but also preconditions them to enjoy the destiny they are assigned.  

Hot tunnels alternated with cool tunnels. Coolness was wedded to discomfort in the form of hard X-rays. By the time they were decanted the embryos had a horror of cold. They were predestined to emigrate to the tropics, to be miners and acetate silk spinners and steel workers. Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies. “We condition them to thrive on heat,” concluded Mr. Foster. “Our colleagues upstairs will teach them to love it.”

“And that,” put in the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue—liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.” ( p. 12 )

This passage demonstrates the extent to which the World State government values stability over personal freedom. In an effort to maintain a peaceful society, leaders have erased individuality. As a person who loves art, this passage gave me shivers because I view art as an expression of individuality, ideas and imagination. Creative people dare us to challenge the status quo, and to solve problems in innovative ways. They open our eyes and expand our minds. Fearing divergent thinking stunts society’s ability to evolve. Exiled artist Ai Weiwei says, “Creativity is the power to act”. Living in a world where artists are silenced, forces us to question, how fictitious is Huxley’s World State?

image from;

Daniel T. Willingham, PhD, is not afraid to be boring

The section Allocate Significant Time to Reading, from Chapter 5 How to Read Difficult Books states, “It’s difficult to read texts on complex topics written by authors who are not afraid to bore their audience” (p. 101). Three pages into this chapter, I quickly realized D. T. Willingham is no scaredy cat. I read the words on the page, amazed Willingham could stretch a relatively simple idea like “give yourself enough time to do your reading” into four pages of text. This is not a controversial stance that requires an elaborate argument. Yet Willingham dissects this concept (if you would call the statement Allocate Significant Time to Reading a concept. Isn’t that just a logical thing we all implicitly agree on?) until you feel your eyes begin to bleed.

However, I cannot only complain about this book. I realize that as we head off to university in a couple of years, Willingham’s revelations (okay, that was a little sarcastic) might benefit us. The most significant tip for me was, before you start reading, think about what you are going to learn. To get a hint of this, flip through the pages to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Make an outline with possible headings for your reading notes. Other learning points included; try to stay awake as you read dry material, place post-it’s on pages ahead of your reading to serve as little reminders that your mind alive, do not just highlight information that seems important, but keep notes as you read, and do not rely on end of chapter summaries and boldface text to give you the essential information. (This essential information can all be found in the boldface text and “in a sentence” summaries at the end of each reading strategy tip). 

I look forward to attaining enlightenment reading Chapter 6, How to Study for Exams. I wonder if Willingham will suggest revolutionary techniques such as; gain a deep understanding of concepts, rather than just surface memorization; create complete study notes; and overall, Allocate Significant Time to Studying to avoid last-minute cramming. Ground breaking!

Personal Writing #4: Revenge of the Purple-Clad Warrior Monkey

Midnight at the Whining Wharf, the purple-clad warrior monkey silently waits. Lurking in the shadow cast by a large crimson shipping container festooned with the company logo of his target . . . Wilson DeVon. As he waits, the purple-clad warrior monkey reflects on the week prior.


“Mr. DeVon, a comment please!”, shouts the paparazzi.

“People are horrified to learn the fire that destroyed the Amazon rainforest was started by your company. And all to free up land to build another mansion for your personal use! A comment, please!”

“Wilson, how does it feel?”, whispers one rather hairy looking man clad in a big purple sun hat.

“How does what feel?”, responds Wilson.

“To be the person who almost caused the extinction of the Rainbow-Clad Monkey?”

“No comment”

“Mr. DeVon will take no more questions and is leaving the building”, interrupts Wilson’s chief bodyguard.

Wilson is briskly escorted out and straight into a waiting limousine. Little does he know, this was only his first of several encounters with the purple-clad warrior monkey.

Wednesday, the second encounter…

Wilson DeVon is at his summer home, in a warm bubbly bath. The enormous tub faces the waterfront. Suddenly, a massive gull does a flyby drop on the gigantic wall to wall window. Foamy white liquid uric acid slowly dribbles down the gleaming glass and onto the perfectly manicured lawn. 

“BLOODY HELL!!! Someone go shoot that foul creature! And clean the putrid window!”

In 3 minutes, a loud gunshot signals the end of a life. To the horror of the house staff, the feathery remains of the dead mangled gull splayed out on Wilson’s welcome mat. 

Later that afternoon, when Willson interrogated his staff, the gardener admitted to seeing a hairy looking man in a purple baseball cap lurking around the grounds. The gardener said when he inquired as to who he was, the man gruffly brushed him off saying, “I’m the new security guard an’ I’m doing my first patrol so gettouta my face”.

Friday, the third encounter…

Wilson is out for a stroll, walking his two standard poodles. A hairy man in purple cashmere and a purple toque crosses the street towards him. Beelining straight for Wilson, he yawns, showing strangely pointed teeth. The man in purple bumps into Willson, startling him.

“Hey, I’m walking here!”

The man replies in a joking manner, “Oh sorry, I didn’t see you there small fry, heh”. He drops his voice,“Better watch your back, I’m coming for ya’”.


Back at the Whining Wharf, the purple-clad monkey warrior checks his watch. Wilson was scheduled to show at exactly 1 o’clock am. There was a sketchy deal to buy blood diamonds, and Wilson was the buyer. The purple-clad warrior monkey checks his watch again, half an hour to go. He decides to have a quick nap. As he drifts off to sleep he festers on why he hates Wilson. The Amazon rainforest was home to the Rainbow-Clad Monkeys. They had existed since the beginning of time. They had taught humans language, how to cook food, and how to build shelter. The Rainbow Monkeys got their immortality from the trees in the rainforest, so when Wilson burned it down, the monkeys all died. Except for purple. His tree was surrounded by a stream, thus he was spared. It was now the purple-clad monkey warrior mission to avenge the death of all Rainbow Monkeys and kill Wilson.

IRJE #5: Artistic Activism

In Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People, Kekla Magoon provides insight into a group of young people intent on changing the world, and the revolutionary socialist movement they founded. Magoon presents a comprehensive history of Black American History from the arrival of enslaved Africans, to the civil rights movement, to Black Lives Matter today. The chapter “Revolutionary Art” discusses Emory Douglas’s political cartoons in the Black Panther newspaper.

“Emory’s images . . . helped the average protestor and grassroots organizer define the phenomena of who and what our oppressors were,” Bobby Seale said.

. . . “The Black Panther newspapers . . . were irresistible to me,” said Colette Gaiter, a high school student in D.C. at the time. “With their huge typographical headlines, use of color, and strikingly rendered drawings of black people . . . I was attracted to Douglas’s images because they showed both anger and hope.”

. . . The Black Panther also frequently ran visual art, poems, and song lyrics created by other members. These pieces helped express the creativity and the desires of the Black community and gave regular people a chance to contribute to the Panther message. (p. 124-125)

This makes me think of the power of visual art, and how the right image can strengthen a message. Protest artists like Emory Douglas used art to make social commentary, and to engage people to think critically. Their work remains relevant because it reflects inequities that persist in society today. In my personal project, I explore visual storytelling and how art connects people. Magoon’s book inspires me to learn more about artistic activism and how it is used to fuel social progress.

Abolish the Timed Essay

Mr. McMaster’s feedback on my Unit 1 final essay had two points; firstly, my use of quotations to illustrate the use of language was strong, and secondly, I need to better distinguish tone from theme. Mr. McMaster’s comment asked, “How is tone created and what affect does it have on the reader?”. 

I understand that theme is essentially the message of the piece, and tone reflects how the author articulates that attitude. Exploring tone, my essay focussed mainly on the authors’ word choice, and the imagery used to communicate their feelings about war. From what I understand, this relates to diction in literature. I learned that I need to use specific key terms (like diction) and be very explicit in my explanations. While I wrote about what details the authors choose to emphasize and to omit (to produce a particular tone), I did not address how this makes the reader feel. 

I learned that understanding exactly what the essay directions are asking you to do is essential. Underlining important words in the directions is helpful. In a four paragraph essay, I thought it would be better to examine two literally techniques (word choice and imagery), rather than superficially touch on several techniques (sound effects, structure, register). I considered depth over breadth, and am kind of conflicted about what to do next time. Is it better to hit all the key terms a teacher mentions in the directions of a timed essay, or to focus on a couple, but explore them thoroughly?

I also learned that 70 minutes can fly by extremely quickly! It is nerve-wracking. I can see a difference in quality in my introduction and thesis statement, compared to my conclusion (which feels rushed). When I write, I tend to take time to critically think about what I want to say. I like getting all my ideas down, and then edit to make my work succinct. For me, timed essays are a challenge. I do not think they are an accurate reflection of a person’s writing ability. They are contrary to what we learn about revision being key. No scholars publish literary analysis ‘speed’ papers. So why are English students assessed this way? Maybe because it is how testing has always been done? Perhaps we should reevaluate this practice.

Home Is Where Your Anarcho-Syndicalist Commune Is

Utopia = a society perfect in every way. Perfect sounds pretty sweet . . . but could a utopian society really exist? Pondering this question, an internal debate happens in my brain.

No threats, and citizens have all their needs met. In an ideal society, membership is voluntary. Everyone is there by choice and can leave at anytime. Resources are equitably shared; choices are respected; diversity is celebrated. 

But without struggle, would there be purpose? Or motivation? Or growth?

A utopian society can exist only in the absence of ego and jealousy. Everyone must act selflessly for the good of all. However, essential to the human experience is one’s sense of self. Art, literature, music are human inventions, created as means to express ourselves. 

So, without ego, would there be art?

This is a foolish question. Of course there would be art in a world without ego! Art is often the byproduct of pure happiness. While some might argue that only oppression fuels artistic movements, I disagree. Some of the world’s most significant works of art are expression of joy. It is la joy de vivre!

Without need, would there be creativity? Or innovation? Or even imagination? 

In my ideal society, everyone would feel joyous, ergo the community would be a hub for some of the most creative and skillful artists on the planet. Imagination will be booming like nowhere ever before. Without worry and terrible things in people’s lives, more time would be allocated to the pursuit of knowledge, and by extension, innovation.

How would government in this community be structured? Corruption is inevitable when some hold power over others.

My utopian society would be an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Perhaps an unusual reference, but to quote Michael Palin and Graham Chapman (as King Arthur) from The Search for the Holy Grail; 

Arthur: …Who is your lord?

Woman: We don’t have a lord!

Arthur: What?

Man: I told you!  We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune!  We’re taking turns to act as a sort of executive-officer-for-the-week–

Arthur: Yes…

Man: But all the decisions of that officer ‘ave to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting–

Arthur: Yes, I see!

Man: By a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs–

Arthur: Be quiet!

Man: But by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major–

Arthur: BE QUIET!  I order you to be quiet!

Woman: “Order”, eh, ‘oo does ‘e think ‘e is?

Arthur: I am your king!

Woman: Well, I didn’t vote for you!

Arthur: You don’t vote for kings!

Woman: Well ‘ow’d you become king then?

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake– her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur.  THAT is whyI am your king!

Man: Listen: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!  Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some… farcical aquatic ceremony!

Arthur: BE QUIET!

Man: You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!!

Arthur: Shut UP!

Man: I mean, if I went ’round, saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

Arthur: Shut up, will you, SHUT UP!

Man: Aha!  Now we see the violence inherent in the system!

Arthur: SHUT UP!

Man: Come and see the violence inherent in the system!  HELP, HELP, I’M BEING REPRESSED!

Obviously, my brain has wondered and that quote lead slightly off topic (and was unnecessarily long). However, in my utopian society, tangential thinking is encouraged. Oh, and every person also has a pet. It is proven that interacting with animals decreases stress, blood pressure, loneliness, and boosts your happiness. Having a pet additionally increases opportunities for exercises and socializing. All good stuff.

IRJE #4: Serious Delirium

Roddy Doyle captures the quintessence of childhood abandon in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. For 10-year-old Paddy, the world consists of his friends and family; the universe consists of his small north Dublin neighbourhood. Paddy and his school mates are a rowdy bunch. Their complete lack of restraint can sometimes lead to cruel behaviour, and sometimes to beautiful inhibition.

I’d hold my arms out straight till they ached and I’d spin. I could feel the air against my arms, trying to stop them from going so fast, like dragging them through water. I kept going. Eyes open, little steps in circle; my heels cut into the grass, made it juicy; real fast — the house, the kitchen, the hedge, the back, the other hedge, the apple tree, the house, the kitchen, the hedge, the back — waiting to stop my feet. I never warned myself. It just happened – the other hedge, the apple tree, the house, the kitchen — stop — onto the ground, on my back, sweating, gasping, everything still spinning. The sky — round and round — nearly wanting to get sick. Wet from sweating, cold and hot. Belch. I had to lie till it was over. Round and round; it was better with my eyes open, trying to get my eyes to hang onto one thing and stop it from turning. Snot, sweat, round, round and round. I didn’t know why I did it; it was terrible — maybe that was why. It was good getting there — spinning . . . The world was round and Ireland was stuck on the side; I knew that when I was spinning — falling off the world. (p. 173)

This quotation perfectly exemplifies the weird, random acts kids sometimes feel compelled to do without really knowing —or caring— why. The sensory overload Paddy experiences spinning, takes me right back to Year 2 hanging out in Coram’s Fields. One time, Mateo coerced Davide and I to climb onto the merry-go-round. He promised he would stop when we told him to, and of course, never did. The world was spinning; Mateo was running; and we were shrieking; equal parts terror and delight. Eventually, Davide and I were flung aside and landed with a crash onto the playground sand. Just like Paddy Clarke, I stared up at the sky, feeling a frenzied, swirling state of serious delirium. 

Personal Writing #3: ECUAD

“Okay, guys, let’s take a break for lunch. Make sure to clean up your brushes and scrape off your palates. See you back at 1”.

I look over at Maddy. Her hands are covered in charcoal and she’s staring intently at a black smudge on her, otherwise, white shorts. I can almost hear her thoughts. She desperately wants to brush the charcoal dust off her shorts, but can’t figure out a way to do it without making more of a mess. Oh, Maddy. She’s using her elbow.

In front of me is my canvas. I’ve sketched out long delicate aloe leaves. They look smooth, and at the same time spiky. They way aloe plants are. I pack up my paint tubes and head towards my locker. I spin the dial clockwise, counter clockwise and clockwise again. I give the lock a sharp yank, and it pops open. I notice Leah looking towards me. She’s helped me open my locker the last two days in a row when I couldn’t figure out the combination. I give her a triumphant grin and she laughs.

Heading down the stairs, I see the doors leading to the foyer. I swear, those doors are the bane of my existence. Push, or pull? It’s a fifty-fifty situation. I can never remember which way. I pull. Nope. Push. No one’s around, but I do a quick check to make sure.

I’m munching on my croissant sandwich and the tomatoes keep plopping out the bottom. My fingers are stained with ink. There is paint caked under my nails. Viridian 195. Maddy is standing on the periphery of the lunch hall. With both hands she holds her metal bento box style lunch container. She is just standing there. I wave her over and she looks relieved. Over lunch, Analiese tells us she wants to shave her head and get it tattooed like the Avatar.

It is week two at the Emily Carr Junior Art Intensive. Everyone here is an art nerd.

I love it.

IRJE #3: You can’t eat art . . . 

Michael Chabon explores the artistry and acumen of Will Eisner in the essay, ‘Thoughts on the Death of Will Eisner’ from his book, Maps and Legends. Chabon attributes Eisner’s wildly successful career as a comic book creator to not only his talent as an illustrator, but his skill as a businessman. The dichotomy that artists must choose to either be righteous and starving, or a shameful sellout is discussed.

Sometimes it’s hard, trying to make art you know you can sell without feeling you are selling it out. And then sometimes it’s hard to sell the art you have made honestly without regard to whether or not anyone will ever want to buy it. You hope to spend your life doing what you love and need and have been fitted by nature or God or your protein-package to do: write, draw, sing, tell stories. But you have to eat. Will Eisner knew that. (p. 143)

As an aspiring artist, I wonder about my future. This passage leads me to wonder; do artists make art for themselves or for others? Personally, I make art that I like without much considerations to what anyone else thinks. But when I am older, if I want to survive as an artist, I realize I will need patrons. Will this affect the art I create? In society, the role artists play is to initiate new perspectives and spark reflection on who we are. Art is the impetus to contemplate divergent views. If artists are simply creating what people want to see, then art is not serving its purpose.

Musings stuck in traffic…

The route home is ingrained in my brain,

The bends, the dips,

Even the trees, the shrubberies,

A path worn smooth through my neurones.

Vance Joy’s Riptide hums through the car speakers,

Ocean on our left, 

Mountains on our right,

Outside, the coniferous trees sway, 

Inside, the seat heaters steam.

Our car, our car, our impervious bubble of heat and tunes,

Our car moves forward, 

Our car advances three centimetres,

And. Stops.

Ambulance sirens wail over Joy’s melody.

One hour rolls into two.

Only time’s wheels rotate now.

Time moves forward; it mocks our static state.

Lacking in movement.

Forces in equilibrium.

We are not bodies in motion.

When did it get dark out?

When did the air inside get so muggy and stuffy??

Hasn’t this song already played three times???

The motorcyclist in front has had it.

He pushes his bike onto the shoulder.

And is gone.

Staring from my window into someone’s living room.

Baseball is on TV.

I used to think nothing was more boring than baseball.

But watching baseball.

…from my car window.

…into someone else’s window.

….in traffic. 


The driver a few cars ahead hops out.

He runs into the bushes.

It is now completely dark outside.

Blackberry brambles bristle.

Sinister silhouettes stare.

We stand still.

Traffic jam purgatory.

IRJE #2: “Mystery all around”

In Stephen King’s Elevation, Scott Carey only begins to experience a connection to the earth once he —literally— begins to float away from it. Castle Rock is a small American town, where people go about their daily business without pause for introspection. Scott’s mundane life is suddenly shaken when he steadily begins to lose weight . . . but not mass. As he becomes lighter and lighter, Scott develops a fascination for the everyday wonders that surround him.

The night was cold, chilling the sweat on his face, but the air was as sweet and crisp as the first bite of a fall apple. Above him was a half-moon and what seemed like a trillions stars.
To watch the trillion pebbles, just as mysterious, that we walk over every day, he thought. Mystery above, mystery below. Weight, mass, reality: mystery all around. (p. 141)

This passage reminds me of coming home to Vancouver Island after spending time in Toronto or London. When I stand out on my deck at night, I feel as though my senses are reawakened. Away from the city noise, I hear salmon sloshing in the harbour, or a seal surfacing with a soggy snort. Away from the city light pollution, I see our barred spiral galaxy, and if I am lucky, maybe even a meteor. King’s writing reminds me of the awe I sometimes feel when marvelling at the fascinating phenomenon of existence.

December 2019, A Pre-Covid Memory:  The Prince of Wales Lottery

Rows of twinkling lights shimmer along the high street store fronts on Piccadilly Circus. A shop door opens, and a blast of joyful Christmas carols fills my ears. The warm smell of roasted chestnuts wafts in the December air. My fingertips brush against a candy cane wrapper scrunched up in the pocket of my parka. It is almost time for dinner. My taste buds are anticipating the custard tarts we plan to pick up later from the Portuguese bakery in Soho. But first, we have come to the West End.

My mum, grandmother and I have each put our names in a lottery to win tickets for tonight’s show. We placed our ballots with hundreds of others into an enormous golden spinning drum. Now we are standing outside the opulent Prince of Wales Theatre, waiting for the draw to commence. My fingers are crossed tightly in my mitts. Please, please, please let my name be called! We can see our breath, but I am not paying attention to the cold.

Wearing a top hat, and a fancy coat with tails, the theatre manager calls out the first name. A man in the back cheers and runs up to collect his pair of winning tickets. Then a second name is called, then a third name, a fourth, and a fifth. The theatre will be giving out seven pairs of tickets. Front row tickets. 

I begin to feel disheartened —but then the manager calls out—“Heather Brown!”. Next to me, my mum lets out a hoot. She hops up the steps to collect her two tickets.  A thought crosses my mind. We need tickets for four people . . . .

The manager bellows, “And the final two tickets for tonight’s show go to . . .  Samantha Zinn!”.  My heart sinks.

But wait! Where is the winner? A few minutes pass, yet Samantha is nowhere to be seen. What? Tension in the crowd augments. That means one last name will be drawn! I nervously watch the golden drum turn, and see the slips of paper tumble inside. I close my eyes.

“Finnegan Brown!”  

“That’s YOU Finn!”, my grandma laughs out loud.

We’ve won four tickets! We can all go!  Both my grandparents, my mum and I.  Christmas in London is always magical. To be honest, the events leading up to the show stand out more in my memory than the actual show itself. That frosty December evening on Piccadilly Circus is one of my favourite memories.

Compare and contrast “They Shall Not Grow Old” with All Quiet on the Western Front and Soldier’s Home

Why should we care about the experiences of WWI soldiers? How could anyone today relate to troops who fought in a war that happened over a century ago? Is there even any relevance to the world today? Similar to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernest Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, Peter Jackson’s documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” provides insight into the lives of servicemen during and after the Great War. All three effectively cultivate empathy for their characters or subjects in order to communicate a shared theme; no one wins a war.  However, Remarque, Hemingway and Jackson each tell their stories from different perspectives and using different formats.

While All Quiet on the Western Front and Soldier’s Home use writing to connect readers to the stories of WWI soldiers, “They Shall Not Grow Old” uses the visual medium of archival film and photographs. Moreover, Remarque’s novel (told from the first-person perspective of a German soldier) and Hemingway’s short story (third-person narration of a US Marine’s life) both follow the stories of one fictional protagonist, whereas Jackson’s documentary depicts multiple experiences of many real life young British servicemen.

Nonetheless, a major similarity among these three pieces is their ability to evoke empathy from the audience. Through the voice of Remarque’s protagonist Paul Bäumer, the reader experiences the horrors of daily life on the front lines. In our imaginations, we see what Paul sees and sense what he feels. By the same token, while Hemingway’s Krebs might be desensitized after the war, we empathize with his feelings of alienation. The reader is drawn into Kreb’s world of isolation and his inability to reintegrate into society. In the same way, viewers relate to the images and footage of young soldiers sharing their stories in Jackson’s film. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the real life soldiers, the audience develops caring for the young men. We understand from the soldiers’ authentic accounts, that in reality, many Paul Baümers and Harold Krebs’ actually existed. All three works share a similar message; glory in war is a myth; death, gore and grime in war is reality.

To sum up, while Remarque, Hemingway and Jackson use different storytelling methods to share different perspectives, they equally succeed at creating empathetic portrayals of WWI soldiers. The fictional characters Paul Bäumer and Harold Krebs, along with Peter Jackson’s genuine young subjects are all compelling individuals the audience develops empathy towards and start to care about. Through reading and viewing soldiers’ stories from a war fought a hundred years ago, audiences today can develop an understanding on how fighting universally effects us.

In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.

Neville Chamberlain, 1938

IRJE #1: “Room enough… to remake his story better and different”

In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, best friends Colin and Hassan set out on a cross-country road trip after graduating from high school. Colin feels his teenage years slipping away and is anxious about adulthood just around the corner. Having been identified as a child prodigy at two, he wonders whether he might have peaked too early. What does the future hold for a former prodigy? However, during their journey, the friends begin to realize that the open road ahead brings exciting possibilities.

So Colin drove past the Hardee’s and out onto the interstate headed north. As the staggered lines rushed past him, he thought about the space between what we remember and what happened, the space between what we predict and what will happen. And in that space, Colin thought, there was room enough to reinvent himself – room enough to make himself into something other than a prodigy, to remake his story better and different – room enough to be reborn again and again. (p. 214)

Similar to Colin, I believe many graduates might relate to feeling overwhelmed thinking about what comes next after high school. While it is a privilege to have choices, it can also be overwhelming thinking about the different paths your life could take. Colin’s realization makes me think of the quote “Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.”(Susan Statham). Ultimately, Colin understands he has his whole lifetime to figure out and become the person he wants to be.

Comparison of Krebs and Baumer

The adage “you can’t go home again” applies equally to Paul Baümer from All Quiet on the Western Front and Harold Krebs from Soldier’s Home. Both characters are traumatized WWI soldiers unable to reintegrate into society. While many comparisons can be made of Krebs and Baümer, their reactions to being “home” struck me the most.

In Hemingway’s short story, American Marine Krebs “had been a good soldier.” (p. 4) and battled “at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St Mihiel and in the Argonne” (p. 1). Nonetheless, no accounts of Krebs’ experiences on the front lines are described in the story. In contrast, Remarque’s novel contains graphic scenes in disturbing detail of Paul’s life as a German soldier. For instance, Paul sees grisly corpses scattered in No Man’s Land, witnesses his school mate Kemmerick dying in hospital after losing a limb in combat, and watches an enemy French soldier slowly die from a stabbing Paul himself has inflicted. In addition to this, when Paul and Kat encounter a wounded comrade they face an unimaginable decision, 

“Kat looks around and whispers: “Shouldn’t we just take a revolver and put an end to it?”

The youngster will hardly survive the carrying, and at the most he will only last a few days. What he has gone through so far is nothing to what he’s in for till he dies. Now he is numb and feels nothing. In an hour he will become one screaming bundle of intolerable pain. Every day that he can live will be a howling torture. And to whom does it matter whether he has them or not—I nod.

“Yes, Kat, we ought to put him out of his misery.” (p. 72).

Given these examples, the reader undoubtedly understands how Paul is traumatized by the war. 

Nevertheless, in Soldier’s Home, while the reader does not know exactly what has happened to Krebs during wartime, it is clear that similar to Paul, Krebs has been drastically changed by his experience. After the war, proof of this is seen in Krebs’ lack of interest to interact with his family, find a job or meet a girlfriend despite his family’s encouragement. Does Krebs miss the adrenaline rush from battle? Does he now find life at home mundane? The phrase “It was not worth it.” (p. 3 and 4) is repeated three times throughout the story and demonstrates Krebs’ complacency. Likewise, the lines, “He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences.” (p. 3) reveals Krebs’ feelings of disconnect to his former life. Moreover, Krebs’ stolid response to his mother’s question of whether he loves her, “I don’t love anybody” (p.6) ultimately demonstrates his level of detachment and desire not to engage in meaningful relationships with others. 

By the same token, when Paul visits home on leave, he says “I ought never to have come here. Out there I was indifferent and often hopeless… I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end.” (p. 185). From this quote, we see the isolation Paul feels from the life he once knew. Paul’s isolation is very similar to the alienation Krebs inflicts on himself. We can make assumptions that Krebs’ reasons for distancing himself from society are different to Paul’s. Perhaps one has nightmares of the atrocities he witnessed, while the other morbidly reminisces the excitement he felt on the front lines. Either way, the result is the same. Neither Paul nor Krebs is capable of living as they did pre-WWI.

To summarize, while Paul (an Axis soldier) and Krebs (fighting for the victorious Allies) might differ in how they perceived their time in battle, both are clearly changed in a significant way from their WWI experience. Both Paul Baümer and Harold Krebs are tragic characters who (ironically) find they no longer fit into the societies they left home to protect. Ultimately in contrast to Krebs, who survives the war, Paul dies on an unexceptional day described as “All quiet on the Western Front” (p. 296). Nevertheless, it can be argued that both protagonists are casualties of war.

Personal response All Quiet on the Western Front

  • Make connections with yourself and the people you know. Do the characters and experiences depicted in the story remind you of yourself, or some aspect of yourself, or of people you know? How? Explain. 

In All Quiet on the Western Front, E. M. Remarque’s characters Paul, Müller, Kropp, and Leer are buddies from school that I found myself relating to. Just like my friends and I, they hang out, talk about what is going on in their lives and complain about their old teachers. In many ways, they are four teenage guys who remind me of myself and my friends. Paul describes some of their time together playing cards, “These are wonderfully care-free hours. … We set the lid of the margarine tub on our knees and so have a good table for a game of skat. … One could sit like this forever.” (p. 9). From this example, I can connect with Paul’s experience, and think of Friday nights hanging out at Will’s house with a group of friends. Similar to Paul and his friends, we can spend hours together happily playing ping pong, pool and talking.

On the other hand, while Paul and his friends might share some similarities with me and my buddies, there also exists glaring differences. Specifically, Paul and his friends are German soldiers on the front lines during WWI. As Paul explains, “All four are nineteen years of age, and all four joined up from the same class as volunteers for the war.” (p. 3). Personally, I cannot imagine living in a country at war and enlisting with my friends. Moreover, I believe Paul’s descriptive account of his face to face encounter with an enemy soldier is so far removed from anything myself or my friends have ever experienced or could relate to. 

This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing. Kat and Kropp and Müller have experienced it already, when they have hit someone; it happens to many in hand-to-hand fighting especially-  

But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts (p.221). 

While I have studied WWI from history books, passages such as this make me connect with the realities of war in a far more personal and visceral way. It is a brutal realization to know that literally millions of casualties from both the Allies and the Central Powers were just teenagers like my friends and me. From reading Remarque’s novel and developing empathy for Paul and his friends, I now think historical fiction can be very powerful. Not only has All Quiet on the Western Front given me insight into the life of young soldiers experiencing the atrocities of war, it also motivates me to advocate for peace.

About me

Hello, my name is Finn. I was born in Toronto, then lived in London, UK before moving to Vancouver Island. Drawing is one of my favourite things to do. I also really like swimming, especially in tropical places.

This year in English, I hope to work on creative writing. I’d also like to read books in class written by diverse authors (not only a western, male perspective).