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. 

…is. 

te.di.um.

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).