IRJE #4 – “And the moral of this story…”

In American Gods –written by Neil Gaiman- the character Shadow, fearing that he’ll be sent back to prison, recalls a memory where he talks with one of his inmates, Johnnie Larch. Johnnie tells him about the time he was released from prison, and because his driver’s licence had expired, he couldn’t board a plane and was sent back to prison for threatening an airport worker.

“And the moral of this story, according to Johnnie Larch, was this: don’t piss off people who work in airports.

“Are you sure it’s not something like ‘kinds of behaviour that work in a specialized environment, such as a prison, can fail to work and in fact become harmful when used outside such an environment’?” said Shadow, when Johnnie Larch told him the story.

“No, you listen to me, I’m telling you, man,” said Johnnie Larch, “don’t piss off those bitches in airports.” (p. 19)


I like this text because it clearly illustrates both Shadow’s and Johnnie’s personalities. Johnnie comes off as crude, blunt, and uneducated, while Shadow comes across as calm, polite, and reserved. This contrast makes the book much more enjoyable to read, as well as allowing me to better understand their motivations and values.

PW #4 -Terry the Talented Toe Tapper

“Top of the mornin’ to ya my terrific travellers! Today’s television Tuesday, Terry the Talented Toe Tapper will tell us all their tremendous tricks and why their trendy toe tapping continues to tantalize the total territory of the Tri-Town area. Tell us Terry, why toe tapping?”

“Thanks, Tom. Truthfully, this type of two-step got taught to me by my teacher in tenth grade. Their tactics truly seemed top-notch at the time, in truth, they tended towards tone-deaf tapping tricks.”

“Terribly traumatic. Triumphant times come from troubling trials, isn’t that true, Terry?”

“Typically, Tod.”

“Thanks for talking Terry, truly a treat.”

IRJE #3 – “So spake he…”

For my independent reading journal I have continued reading The Odyssey by Homer. Needless to say, progress has been a slow but enjoyable experience. At one point in the story, Menelaus tells Telemachus (very lengthily) how Aegisthus described the bloodshed that occurred at a feast meant to ambush someone. As a result, neither side had any surviving men. While reading this moment, I found one sentence from Menelaus that stuck out to me:

” ‘So spake he, and my spirit within me was broken, and I wept as I sat upon the sand, nor was I minded any more to live and see the light of the sun.’ ” (p. 60)

This sentence gives me a very vivid image of what Menelaus would have looked like in that moment. Although the writing only hints at his surroundings, my imagination fills in the rest. The way this moment is described makes me understand the crushing sorrow he must be feeling. The sentence is short and simple, but it is able to contain so much meaning that people can relate to. I’m lucky enough to have never had someone close to me killed, but I can imagine the grief felt by someone who experienced that.

PR #2 – All Quiet on the Western Front – Kate Homer-Dixon

All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) was written by Erich Maria Remarque, a European writer. Remarque’s novel was a very intense experience for me. I was horrified by the protagonist’s, Paul Bäumer, vivid experiences while also being completely immersed in the story. Each experience felt honest and unfiltered, with every detail acknowledged regardless of whether it was good or bad. I think this is why reading how Paul slowly succumbed to the hopelessness during World War I was so upsetting. I wanted him to keep fighting even though continuing would hurt him more than giving up.

Hope is a constant theme throughout the story. It drives every character to survive, even though a lot of them do not know exactly what it is they are hoping for. Even when Paul gets these short moments of normality, it usually leaves him feeling even more unhappy. At one point, Paul is on leave and returns to his hometown in Germany where he feels deeply disconnected from his family and past life. He observes that:

“Out there I was indifferent and often hopeless –I will never be able to be so again. I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, and for everything that is so comfortless and without end. I ought never to have come on leave.”  (p. 185)

Relieving these feelings of discontent, disconnect, and emotional agony caused Paul more pain than if he had stayed on the front lines. He has no way to manage these feelings when he needs to focus on survival at the front, so he hides them and hopes for a future that will not force him to confront the trauma he has experienced. I will probably (hopefully) never be able to fully relate to his experiences, but it is devastating to know that millions of people had to endure these experiences in a senseless war.

The feelings Paul describes appear throughout the book but never lead to anything good. The reason is a simple one: empathy is not welcome in war. If Paul felt empathy for every enemy soldier he had killed, every soldier that he watched be shot, and every soldier who he saw slowly waste away surrounded by death and disease, he would not survive. Even when Paul had to tell the mother of his close friend, Kemmerich, that her son died, he cannot empathize with her. He explains that “When a man has seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there should be so much anguish over a single individual.” (p. 181). This explanation is even more devastating when he tries to comfort her by lying and saying that Kemmerich died an instant and painless death. Whenever I think of this scene I think of my mother, and what would happen if I were in this position. I cannot even begin to explain how awful it would be to die away from my family, unable to comfort them or say goodbye.

Erich Maria Remarque wrote these scenes to share what many soldiers experience fighting on every side of the war. The sheer brutality, destruction, damage, and pain conveyed in this book, combined with brief moments of happiness, is what makes Remarque’s words have such a direct message: the pain and horrors of war is shared on both sides of the conflict and outlasts everyone.

PW #3: The Aardvark (Davis) and the Shepherd’s Pie (or maybe just a pie if you prefer to think of it that way)

I recently made a shepherd’s pie, although some may consider it just a pie because I don’t have a shepherd to give it to. If I did have a shepherd, I would name him Joseph, for that’s the name I think of first. But after giving him his name and pie I wouldn’t have the faintest clue what to do with him. Maybe I’d let him wander the fields aimlessly, because I don’t have any sheep for him to herd and a shepherd clearly can’t be a shepherd if he has no sheep to herd. Maybe he would herd my aardvark Davis, albeit knowing Davis, Joseph would probably not be the one doing the herding. Davis is a menace after all. Maybe all Aardvarks are malicious, but then again, maybe it’s only the ones that come from Wisconsin. The aardvarks from Wisconsin are probably just as down about the cold weather as I am. Yes, I conclude, that must be it. The shepherd’s pie has gone cold by now, but I prepare some portions for Davis and me all the same.

IRJE #2: The Wine-Dark Sea

I’ve recently started reading the Odyssey by Homer, which focuses on a man named Odysseus and his journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. Meanwhile, his son, Telemachus, is having to host a number of suitors that are all fighting for his mother’s hand in marriage. But when he’s told by the goddess Athena that his father is still alive, Telemachus sets out to find him. She disguises herself as Mentes and says that:

“I avow  to be Mentes, son of wise Anchialus, and I bear rule among the Taphians, lovers of the oar. And now I come to shore, as thou seest, with ship and crew sailing over the wine-dark sea, unto men of strange speech, even to Temesa, in quest for copper and my cargo is shining iron.” (p.14)

I like this quote simply because of how beautifully it’s written. Each line is so descriptive and you can almost feel how the words would flow if someone was reciting this. In these two sentences so much information is conveyed in a way that isn’t overwhelming or confusing, and I find that really impressive.

PW #2 – “Deep” Thoughts: Cycles of Reflection [Satire]

I have the deepest of thoughts. Like waves, they crash over me; sending my consciousness spiralling deeper into the darkness that is my mind. Ask me to write poetry and I’ll write the most vigorous of tales. Ask me to create a painting and I’ll make something that brings even the coldest of hearts to shatter like  fragile pieces of glass. My thoughts are deep because everything in life must have meaning. All our actions, all our emotions, everything the human species does has a deeper meaning. Ask me to analyze the most dull and passive works of literature, and I’ll construct a web so complex that it shows things that even the authors never thought of. I see everything that is not there. My thoughts are filled with meaningless words that can be spun into something that almost contains meaning, for those are what deep thoughts are. Thoughts that are deep hold meaning because they are meaningless, allowing them to be turned into whatever pleases the reader the most. My thoughts are hypocritical, therefore, they are deep. I reflect on my thoughts so much and so often that my reflections contain no more meaning. I keep my real thoughts to myself, as no one will value thoughts that are simple and discuss information that anyone can see. Each thought must be original, because depth is the only thing that allows you to stand above your peers. My thoughts are so deep that even I can no longer understand them.


IRJE #1 – Kate Homer-Dixon

In Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonist, Offred, is walking home with another handmaid named Ofglen. Handmaids aren’t allowed to have normal conversations; instead, only exchanging polite greetings and simple needs. When Ofglen beings talking to Offred and asking questions that would be considered treason, Offred is taken aback before responding. After the conversation the two discuss how they thought the other was a “true believer”.

“I thought you were a true believer,” Ofglen says.

“I thought you were,” I say.

“You were always so stinking pious.”

“So were you,” I reply. I want to laugh, shout, hug her.

“You can join us,” she says.

“Us?” I say, There is an us then, there’s a we. I knew it.

“You didn’t think I was the only one,” she says.

I didn’t think that. It occurs to me that she may be a spy, a plant, set to trap me; such is the soil in which we grow. (p. 194)

This exchange shows how isolated Offred has become from others, as well as how desperate she is for meaningful social interaction. Throughout the book the author has only given us moments of normality, this made me empathize much more with the protagonist as these brief occasions give both the reader and Offred hope for something better. However, constant fear that Ofglen may be a spy has made it hard for Offred to fully trust her, allowing some of the social isolation to remain.

Personal Response (They Shall Not Grow Old) – Kate Homer-Dixon

I’ve probably spent too much time deliberating about what I should write here, and this is mostly due to how much one empty piece of paper (or in this case, empty draft) can intimidate me. How do I explain a war where millions died and accurately represent the complexity and brutality that occurred?

The tragedy of World War 1 isn’t an unspoken subject, it’s actually far from it. One search of the internet and I found websites, books, and films (such as They Shall Not Grow Old) all describing in detail the horrifying experiences that happened in the trenches and no-mans land. It would be wrong to say that I was never told about World War 1, although the topic wasn’t a common discussion in my household. For younger me, all I needed to know was that many people died, there was a good guy and a bad guy, and that my great grandfather had fought in the war. I didn’t think the topic was extremely important to my life since it had happened so long ago, so I didn’t pursue the topic any further and decided that the information I had was all I needed to know. For a long time I didn’t know about the terrible conditions the soldiers endured and the horrible things these soldiers witnessed. I think this is why, despite the stories being disturbing, I was thankful for how the movie They Shall Not Grow Old presented the war. It was honest about what had happened in the war, and didn’t censor the experiences of those who had fought and seen such atrocities. But again, I didn’t know a lot about this topic until I was in high school. I didn’t even know that the condition Europe was left in after the Armistice allowed for World War 2 to become such a devastating war. Because of World War 1, more people were forced to live in trenches, more dangerous weapons were created to allow for greater violence, and peoples’ mental health was sacrificed for their country. This first war — the “Great” war — paved the way for even more generational trauma; something that has affected older members of my family for multiple generations. Despite this, They Shall Not Grow Old was still able to show that there were good times during the war, and that the majority of soldiers were still able to show empathy to their enemies. World War 1 should not be seen as only a tragedy, but also a success from people who survived such a devastating time.

PW #1 – Kate Homer-Dixon

On May 29th, 2064, the country of Nelsiliss declared war on the dolphins. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, all I know is that one day almost everyone in the country was angrily wading out into the ocean, shouting profanities at the slippery mammals as they darted beneath the waves. Perhaps the war was declared because, as a country who’s economy is mainly reliant on the export of fish, the fact that we had to share the resources of an ocean with other creatures was impossible to fathom. Or perhaps one day our government decided that their people needed something to rally against, regardless of the logic behind it. Recently, governments have been doing this a lot more; blindly declaring war on whoever they first see before thinking that they might have better uses of their time. The sad thing is that it seems to be doing exactly what they hoped: rallying the people against a common enemy. I briefly entertain the idea that this whole ordeal started with one lonely fisherman out on his boat; sick of all the marine life pestering him, decided that the best way to solve this problem was to declare war on an animal that can’t even comprehend war. Sometimes I envy these animals.

Introduction – Kate Homer-Dixon (Hi, that’s me.)

Hi, I’m Kate. I was born in Ontario, Canada, but I moved out to British Columbia a few months before the Covid-19 Pandemic. I’ve been attending Brookes Westshore since grade 6. I’m interested in history, art, music, and basically anything that involves some form of storytelling.

I enjoy reading outside of school and whenever my brain decides to go “Ah,  I’m bored again. I guess I’ll go stare at wood pulp with symbols printed on it and have vivid hallucinations”. I’ve been finding it harder to read for pleasure in the past few years as classes have involved more school reading (leading to the problem that whenever I open a book for fun I always feel vaguely inclined to write an essay on it). Some of my favourite books to read are ones with diverse and expressive characters (Alfred Jingle from Pickwick Papers is a good example).

In some ways I prefer writing to reading. More specifically creative writing, as I can create my own worlds and characters. Because my brother and I share an interest in creative writing we’re the other’s occasional story editor and someone who gives unfiltered and judgmental opinions that we didn’t ask for. I also like academic writing, although I tend to ramble and go over the word limit.