An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle 2, Round 1

Now that we’re doing a “book club” at PVA, our presentations are taking the form of a “literature circle.” We’re on our second round of reading Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes. Some of the students’ lit circle materials for the first three chapters of  (pp.1-51) are below:

Summarizer: 

Discussion Director: Ivan Josic

  1. How far would you time travel for a loved one, if at all? Would you do it for an acquaintance or a stranger?
  2. Why do you think the author decides to put this crisis in the 80s and not, say, the present or the near future?
  3. Why does Thea Lim exclude information on the disease, not even giving it a name?
  4. What do you think would happen in a severe, pandemic-afflicted America like Thea Lim’s? Would there still be vacationers? What will happen in our own diseased future?
  5. How/why does Thea Lim differentiate her mode of time travel from other works?

I believe Thea Lim gives little information on the “deadly flu pandemic” because, as she frames the story, it’s not necessary. The disease has already taken its toll on humanity, and Polly Nader and her husband must work around this fact as they plot a course for themselves into the future. There is no need for an r-naught or a Patient Zero because this is no medical thriller, there are no doctors. As the Galveston bus driver says, 93% of America is already dead or gone.

Lit Connector: 

Illustrator: Pieper Grantham 

Picture1

For my role as Illustrator this week, I made a collage featuring some of the images seen in this section. My collage has two main sections: Polly’s original timeline and the future she finds herself in. Representing her past is a paper bag filled with objects representing memories, objects, or goals associated with her life. I was really struck by the image of people clutching paper bags with the objects they would carry into the future, and I knew I wanted to construct Polly’s own paper bag filled with the things she would carry. Included in the bag is the squirrel, the beer, and the cocktail from her date with Frank, the man in the hazmat suit and the logo for St. Luke’s hospital representing the flu and her reason for traveling into the future, the baseball cards she brought, and the lightbulbs and the story of the woman wanting to bring high heels from the airport. When she lands in Galveston, it’s not a pretty sight, and everything is overgrown with brush, which is what I tried to convey through the scrunched up foliage clippings. Also in her future is the tomato she got on the bus, which is the very tiny smudge on the Galveston clipping. For the record I also wanted to include the baby sock, the matchbook with frank’s number, and a bicycle, but I guess there’s only so much I can ask for from a magazine.

Discussion Question: What do you think was the most startling and unexpected thing Polly encountered in 1998?

Literary Luminary: Caroline Paden

Four Quotes:

Page 20: “She is entering a world where the notion of something as normal as dinnertime does not exist.”

Page 25: “How much does it cost to put scalloped edges on every napkin? Such an act of beauty that goes mainly unseen.”

Page 40: “But there wasn’t [a light switch], at least not anywhere light switches are commonly mounted, scaled to basic human dimensions: within a foot of the door, within five feet of the floor. It was a small but eerie discrepancy.”

Page 49: “A speaker played a recording of children’s laughter, swings, and wind chimes. She could think of no healthy reason for the recording.”

The first quote is significant to the story because I think Thea Lim touched on an extremely relevant aspect of our lives right now during this weird semi-lockdown: the disruption of normalcy and routine as we (and Polly) enter a frightening new situation because of a deadly pandemic. In this section, Polly fully confronts for the first time the fact that she is doing something incredibly risky that she’s never done before. Her life is about to drastically change, and she has no idea what’s waiting on the other side of this journey except the promise of something better. To me, this quote also ties into how time ceases to exist in places like airports and train stations—they’re liminal spaces, where you’re not meant to rest or settle down, so routines and mealtimes and social structures get thrown out the window in favor of a kind of subdued anarchy. This quote would have felt familiar to me before this whole coronavirus situation, but it feels really familiar right now

Literary Terms Expert: Valentina Avellaneda

  1. Houston Intercontinental Airport
    1. Descriptions of the airport in a dystopian sort of society depict the enormous differences to the place we know in the present world. Though it remains a place of coming and going (transition), the way time travel plays a role in the airport gives it a more permanent feeling as when someone travels to the future, they cannot easily return. Comparing the airport in the book to the one in reality, characteristics of a modified, magically realistic world are evident.
    2. Before you can get within a mile of terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo.” (page 1)
  1. The color yellow
    1. The first time the color is introduced is in the beginning (“Frank is wearing a yellow hazmat suit. The color marks him as infected.”, page 1) as a color that differentiates health vs sickness. The color yellow is often associated with happiness, clarity, courage and abundance, characteristics opposite of what one suffering in a flu pandemic would express. Yet, altering the connotations of the color yellow serves to emphasize the other worldly circumstances to come (aka time travel!).
    2. Another place the color yellow is evident is in the reference to the Cafe Terrace at Night painting by Van Gogh (page 13). Van Gogh once said “The night is more alive and richly colored than the day.”, an opinion many might disagree with. Offering controversial tones, this painting allows readers to get insight into the bizarre world Polly is about to enter.
  1. Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative (and its procedures)
    1. The concept of time travel in this book gives it not only a dystopian feel, but also comments on the immigration situation in our society. Considering Polly has to sacrifice spending precious years with Frank while they’re young, to travel into the future in hopes of saving his life, the idea of separation is evident. Here, families (or couples…) are being torn apart by worldly events out of their control.
    2. Furthermore, how Polly is treated with her O-1 visa reflects the lack of equal opportunities immigrants are given. Her visa seems to provide some privileges those with an N-1 visa are deprived of, as they’re forced to live in metal boxes and ride stationary bicycles to provide energy as a job.
    3. They already have those people. They need people to fill the jobs no one wants.” (Page 14) Here, Polly’s capabilities deem her worthy of a visa entailing better circumstances.
  1. Baseball cards and matchbook
    1. These two items serve as a link between Polly and Frank’s relationship. The baseball cards are seen when Polly is having a medical evaluation to see if her health is good enough for time travel, and the psychologist tells her he needs to confiscate them. Polly has the cards as they may be worth $$$ in the future and because they belong to Frank.
    2. When Frank and Polly first meet, Frank writes his phone number in a matchbook. This simple gesture reflects the strength of their bond, as they no longer need luxurious items or grand gestures to be reminded of one another’s presence.
  1. Human powered energy
    1. The concept of resorting to other energy sources for the sake of the planet (or that natural resources run out…) is one we are not new to today. Yet, having “lower class” people riding bicycles day after day to power AC in tourist traps twists the idea of “another energy source”.

 

“In the Kindergarten” Lit Circle Round 2

Here is the second group of freshmen’s literature circle materials on Ha Jin’s short story “In the Kindergarten.”

Summarizers: Gryphon and Luke

In “In the Kindergarten” we meet a young girl named Shaona living in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Shaona overhears her teacher, Teacher Shen, speaking on the phone with Doctor Niu about paying for her abortion. Shaona does not know what an abortion is, and questions whether it was a place where a baby was held. It is important to know that the story takes place at a time when China’s One Child Policy was in full swing. Here, we are presented with the chronic tension. Teacher Shen requires both money and certain resources to deal with her abortion. Later, the class is told by the teacher that they were going to spend the day picking puslanes, a plant used during port-partum bleeding. They were told that the herbs would be sent to the kitchen and that they would eat them for dinner. Before they left the field with the duffle bag of the puslanes, the teacher drops a third of them off with Uncle Chang, the one in charge of the vegetable fields at this establishment. Shaona is confused, but doesn’t question it. When the children were presented with dinner, they were disappointed due to the fact that there were no purslanes. Shaona recalls seeing her teacher go home with a large green bag and assumed it was filled with laundry, but now she knows it was filled with purslanes. Here is the acute tension. Shaona and the other children are upset with this, and the next day, Shaona urinates in the bag of purslanes while the children and Teacher Shen were chasing a rabbit. The story ends with Shaona eating a large meal and feeling confident in herself. She feels that she is now a “big girl”.

Discussion Directors: Caroline A and Deonna

  1. What is the purpose of the interaction on pages 46 and 47, where the children are arguing?

  2. Why do you think Jin chose to write from Shaona’s perspective instead of the teacher? How would writing from Teacher Shen’s POV affect the story?

  3. What was the significance of Shaona’s conflict with Dabin? How does her giving away her peanuts affect the story?

  4. Why does the author include the detail of Teacher Shen giving a sizeable amount of the purslanes to Mister Chang?

  5. How does Shaona’s arc come full-circle at the end of the story, where she becomes a “big girl”?

Why do you think Jin chose to write from Shaona’s perspective instead of the teacher? How would writing from Teacher Shen’s POV affect the story?

Jin chose to write from Shaona’s point of view in order to portray Teacher Shen’s situation through the eyes of child. This juxtaposition between the way a child’s mind perceived her predicament—as shown in the scene when Shaona overhears her conversation on the phone–and what the reader realizes to be the teacher’s struggle to recover from an abortion, allows the author and the reader to view the situation through fresh eyes. Using the perspective of a mischievous child over a rather serious situation (abortion, theft, abusing labor, etc.) creates interest and tension for the piece, as well as gives us many small details that we would not have gotten otherwise, such as the relations between the children in the kindergarten and the teacher’s outer ward persona, despite her inner conflict.

Lit Connectors: Athena and Jessie

1. The school
2. Smorgasbord
3. Chanice’s Workshop Story
4. Gallus, Gallus
Both stories, “In the Kindergarten” and “The School” had many vibrant and impotant strokes of peculiarity, both involved children, and in both stories those children acting very strangely. In the Kindergarten is similar to the story we read last semester The School in its use of unsavory language by children. We noticed that in In the Kindergarten, although only kindergarteners, the children used curse words that gave an absurd tone to the piece. Likewise, The School was overall a very odd story. In it, the children in one class at a school witness a series of increasingly peculiar events that all involve the deaths of things they have interacted with. It starts small, and ends up going up to the death of a Korean orphan. Throughout it, the children who go to the school start to sound more and more grown-up, which adds to the surreal feeling it gives off. Both of the stories include children that use more adult language to give off an absurd vibe, and emphasize the strangeness of the situation. In The School, this odd situation is the succession of deaths, and in In the Kindergarten, this situation is the teacher’s need to support herself because of her abortion.

Illustrators: Sonya and Isabella

illustrator2

We decided to try and draw a couple of different things from the story and combine it into one image. Firstly there’s the girl/main character in the center who is holding her skirt full of purslanes, as that was a scene from the book. Shaona is holding her skirt to collect them, which is a part of the tension as the teacher later takes them for her own reasons. The teacher, Teacher Shen, is nearby, almost like a shadow supervising her to make sure she is collecting enough to satisfy Dr. Niu. There is description about what Teacher Shen is wearing and what her face looks like, but not as much about the other characters. A big concern for Teacher Shen is being able to exist without confrontation or her secret being released: she wants to get the doctor to keep quiet about her abortion, and to receive more money to assist with her needs; taking care of her and her mother and eating eggs to stay healthy after the abortion. We drew a plane above to signify the tension and possibility of it being a warplane when Shaona notices it and wonders how pilots could fit inside, followed by a childish observation saying ‘only pigeons could fit in them’, showcasing her naivety.

Do you think the chronic tension is Shaona missing her parents, or Teacher Shen being in need of money? Why or why not?

Literary Luminaries: Marie and Sebastian

  1. “What’s an abortion? Shaona asked herself. Is it something that holds a baby? What does it look like? Must be very expensive.”
  2. “[The teacher] used to sing a lot; her voice was fruity and clear. But recently she was quiet, her face rather pallid.”
  3. “The boy would be ‘jailed’, and he might get even with her after he was released.”
  4. “[The children] were shouting out ‘rat-a-tat’ as if the spinning platform was a tank turret.’

Explanation:

Specifically, we thought the quote “The boy would be ‘jailed’, and he might get even with her after he was released.” was an important part of the story. It’s an interesting bit because it, combined with several other quotes describing the children and their interaction with the adults in the kindergarten, lends to the impression that the kindergarten wasn’t a place where safety or kindness was encouraged. In the first place, the fact that the child is going to ‘jail’ and won’t get out for a while, is highly questionable and makes the reader assume that the kindergarten isn’t a fun or morally constructive place to be. The second part is even more concerning. ‘…he might get even with her after he was released…’ is a clause that’s very concerning for multiple reasons and sparks several questions. This is a six-year-old. What can a six-year-old do to seriously get even with another six-year-old? It’s presumed to be a violent action because of his previous behavior, which means that this kindergarten creates very violent kindergartners and is overall not a fun and funky place to be. This is critical to the rest of the story because it establishes the environment that Shaona is living in and the story takes place in.

Craft Terms Experts: Harrison and Gabi

POINT OF VIEW

Example 1:

The lines, “the teacher TO embezzlement” (45) are a great example of the first-person point of view. These lines are Shoana describing her teacher Mrs.Shens appearances and her mannerisms This lets us know as the reader what Shaona thinks about her teacher. This is an important piece of the story because Shaona perspective about her teacher changes latter in the story once her teacher takes the purslanes home. So it is therefore important to know her perspective of her teacher

Example 2:

From “Shanoas mind was racing TO a few purslanes” (48). These lines show Shaona’s hope for eating the purslanes. But then later on on the page form the lines  “she remembers seeing TO harvest home” we see Shoanas understanding that her teacher took the purslanes. This is important because this event cause Shaona to be mad and later then pee on the purslanes.

CHARACTERIZATION

Example 3:

The 3rd to the final paragraph on page 44 is an example of Characterization. The lines give a very in-depth description of how Shaona is distressed in her situation. It talks of how much she misses home and how much she hates the kindergarten’s beds, and how her dismay at her situation has warped her view of the Kindergarten and shows us how happy she was before in contrast to her distress.

DIALOGUE

Examples 4:

From the ending of the page of 46 to 47 dialogue is used in a fight between students. This causes one of the students to be put in a pantry like a place as punishment. This causes Shaoan to like her teacher even less.

 

 

“In the Kindergarten” Lit Circle Round 1

Here is the first group of freshmen’s literature circle materials on Ha Jin’s short story “In the Kindergarten.”

Summarizers: Rey and Angela

The story begins with Shaona, a little girl of around 5 or 6, who is living at a kindergarten with her classmates and her Teacher Shen, who overhears a conversation between her teacher and an unknown person, discussing the painful aftermath of an abortion she recently had. After the call is over, Teacher Shen gathered the children and led them outside, where she told them that they would be picking purslanes, a herb that grew in the schoolyard. After a while of collecting the herbs, Shaona got into a fight with her classmate Dabin, who insulted her for the number of purslanes she had picked. He was taken away by the teachers, and the children continued searching the fields, excited for the purslanes that Teacher Shen had promised they would get for dinner. At mealtime that night, Shaona noticed that their food is what it always was, and gets angry because they did not get to taste the purslanes. After dinner, Dabin was released by the teacher, and in order to keep him from messing with her, she gave him some peanuts she had gotten from her father, who she hasn’t seen for 2 weeks. At recess the next day the children play instead of collecting herbs but continue their labor the day after. While the class is picking purslanes, a wild rabbit runs out into the field, and all the children run after it trying to catch it for their dinner that night. During the rabbit chase, Shaona leaves the class behind and pees on the collected purslanes. She is so satisfied with her attempt to sabotage whoever would be getting the herbs instead, that she doesn’t even get upset when they have the same foods for dinner that evening.

Discussion Directors: James and Elissa

  1. What is the significance of Teacher Shen’s pregnancy?

  2. Did she give Dabin the peanuts to placate him? I doubt he would have gotten away with much with all the teachers around

  3. Why are the Kindergarten children cussing?

  4. Where do you think the story takes place?

  5. Was she selling the purslanes or was she eating them?

In the story “In the Kindergarten”, we (being Elissa and James, students at HSPVA) believe that the story takes place somewhere in Asia, specifically China. The author, Ha Jin, includes tiny small little details about the characters, the food, and the surrounding area that clue the reader in to where the setting may be. For example, the names of the characters are Chinese, Shaona, Dabin, Teacher Chen, Uncle Cheng, Weilan, Luwan, Aili, and Aunt Chef. While ‘Aunt Chef’ may not be explicitly Chinese, I think it’s an Asian thing to call older adults that you know “aunt” or “uncle” because that’s what I’ve been doing since I was able to talk. We have reason to think that this story specifically takes place in rural China, due to the amount of farming that the main characters do. Furthermore, Teacher Shen seems extremely concered about her pregnancy, and even talks about perhaps getting an abortion, which alludes to the one child law in China, which while may or may not still be in affect, was most likely in affect at the time that this was written. Finally, the food that was mentioned also gives helpful clues to the fact that this is in China, specifically the purslanes and fried eggplant which is a very japanese/chinese type food.

Lit Connectors: Edlyn and Quentin

Suffer the Little Children

Miriam

Ms. Interrupter (Gabi’s workshop piece)

The Wolf and the Cherries (Christian’s workshop piece)

We can connect In the Kindergarten to The Wolf and the Cherries because both stories are about a small child facing a challenge. In Christian’s workshop piece it is about a boy taking on a wolf and in In the Kindergarten a girl is struggling in Kindergarten. Both use food to try and win the conflict they are experiencing. The girl uses peanuts, which are then taken from her. The boy uses cherry pits, which were taken from him by the wolf. In both stories the character ends up triumphant, the girl because she got the edge on her teacher who wasn’t giving them the sprouts she promised, and the boy saved his village from a wolf.

Illustrators: Christian and Chanice

illustrator

The first image relates to the story because it depicts a young girl who is (probably) the same age as the girl in the story. Many have assigned the role of protagonist to the little girl and the climax would be when she pees on the parsnips while the rest of the children are chasing a rabbit. The images a whole represent the story and the arc of the story. The story describes children at a boarding school and their life on the daily. The main setting of the story is the schoolhouse. The readers are introduced to the teacher and a conflict with another man. He goes on a tangent about the teacher paying him because her rent is due. She is hysterical. This adds to the tension when the reader finds out that the teacher has used the money she worked for an abortion. The images like the sack of harvest show the fruit that the children picked.

Literary Luminaries: Natalie and Heather

“She felt that from now on she would not cry like a baby at night again.”

“ ‘Say that again, bitch!’ ”

“‘I’ve an old mother at home. My mother and I have to live . . . And you know, I lost so much blood, because of the baby, that I need to eat eggs to recuperate. I’m really broke now. Can you just give me another month?’”

“Soon Shaona couldn’t stand playing queen anymore, because she felt silly calling him ‘Your Majesty’ and hated having to obey his orders.”

We chose the third quote to elaborate on. This quote introduces the teacher’s conflict, which is the chronic tension of the story. She recently had an abortion and is now struggling to deal with the finaces and resulting health issues because of it. She remarks about how much blood she lost and needs more nutrients. During this quote, she is on the phone, asking her boss for a raise in order to be able to buy more food, but he continues to refuse. The student, Shaona, who is the main character hears this conversation and is confused about what she is talking about. This leads her to desperate measures where she leads the kids outside to pick the purslanes. Shaona, our narrator and voice of the story, is one of her students who is picking them. She doesn’t understand why she is picking the plants and comes up with her own theories; she initially thinks that they are going to eat them at dinner or some other meal, but is confused why they don’t. This is the acute tension of the story as the younger and innocent mind tries to comprehend the intense and mature situation of the teacher’s abortion.

Craft Terms Experts: Benjy, Lakshmi, Caroline W

Dialogue

  1. “Oh please!” the teacher blubbered on the phone. “I’ll pay you the money in three months. You’ve already helped me so much, why can’t you help me out?’…

“Have mercy on me, Dr. ·Niu. I’ve an old mother at home. My mother and I have to live. … And you know, I lost so much blood, because of the baby, that I need to eat eggs to recuperare. I’m really broke now. Can you just give me another month?’”

  1. “Big asshole,” Weilan said, and made a face at him, sticking out her tongue.

“Say that again, bitch!” He went up to her, grabbed her shoulder, pushed her to the ground, and kicked her buttocks. She burst out crying.

  1. “Aunt Chef couldn’t cook those we got yesterday because we turned them in too late, but she’ll cook them for us today. So everybody must be a good child and work hard. Understood?”

  2. He turned away to talk to other children, telling them that purslanes tasted awful. He claimed he had once eaten a bowl of purslane stew when he had diarrhea. He would never have touched that stuff if his parents hadn’t forced him. “It tastes like crap, more bitter than sweet potato vines,” he assured them.

Paragraph:

We chose the first set of quotes. These quotes are present towards the beginning of the story. In this dialogue, Teacher Shen is having a conversation with someone on the phone. It’s in this small portion of dialogue that we understand Teacher Shen’s chronic tension and intentions. Even though the main character, Shaona, is unaware of what an abortion is or how a baby is born, the readers know what is happening. The craft element of dialogue in this case is used to reveal Teacher Shen’s backstory, the fact that she got an abortion and couldn’t afford it because she has to support herself and her mother. It’s this backstory that allows the readers to know what exactly is driving the story. Without understanding that Teacher Shen can’t afford food using this piece of dialogue, we wouldn’t know why the kindergarteners were picking purslanes if they weren’t being cooked, which is what drives the story. There are many different ways to define the chronic tension of a character. In Shaona’s case, her chronic tension is defined through direct narration. That makes sense because she is the main character. The use of dialogue to define Teacher Shen’s backstory, chronic tension, and motives as a character makes sense as a choice of the author because the main character is overhearing this dialogue.

An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle Round 5

Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 198-249). The first round is available here, the second round here, the third round here, and the fourth round here.

Summarizer: Lauren Sternenberg

The section opens with Norberto and Polly prepping for their wedding. She tries on many of Marta—Norberto’s previous girlfriend—and they pose for pictures to solidify the lie. Overall, Polly does her best to fabricate a magic between them for the photos, but it falls flat.

Next, there’s a slight montage of Polly becoming used to travelling to Norberto’s and work, in general, just settling in. She gets to know him a bit better, finding out his family is from El Paso, then moved to Albuquerque where he was separated from his family. Norberto joins the corps to try and find them, but it failed, and he moved to Alabama to drive for the Great South Bus Lines. After, he met Marta and they walked to San Antonio to get the house he’s in now. He’s proud of his hand-made house and record collection, where the one that was Marta’s favorite is turned around.

Norberto suggests they walk on the beach to get used to each other. They hold hands, where Polly feels trapped, until she find’s he was waiting to let go after 120 seconds. He says they should recreate a special moment, which they’ll do the day after. He has her stand in the surf until she dreams of home and her mother.

They get on the boat and get the details of their marriage story right, where Polly is given Marta’s mother’s ring. She realizes it seems like she’s betrayed Frank in marrying Norberto, but she can’t turn back.

The next day, they go to get married. They’re both stricken because this isn’t how they imagined getting married, and when they have the choice to kiss each other, they don’t. On the boat ride home, she tries to get Norberto to see the beauty that Marta saw in the coast, but he misses it.

In April of 1980, Polly is struck by Frank’s collection of items, and she asks him about what he’d do with all their mementos if she were to leave him. He says he’ll throw them away. The evening is heavy between them afterwards, and they agree to take a weekend trip to help. Sadly, the trip has been planned to the minute by Frank, and Polly feels suffocated. They argue about going on the bus tour, then she tells him they have all the time in the world, and he has nothing to be afraid of. He receives it badly and seems defeated.

His reaction reminds her of when Polly’s mother died and she went to the woods instead of school, and how when Donna caught her, she cried until Donna asked what was wrong, and she was afraid of being the only person to remember her mother. Her memories would keep her mother safe. She wanted to tell Frank that, but she can’t.

They go on the bus and sit in silence, where them taking a picture for his grandpa lightens the mood. It tanks a minute later because of the tourists all around them, and she attacks Frank for being so calm. He walks back to his car, defeated, which prompts Polly to buy plastic cherry blossoms for him. She apologizes. He keeps those flowers in the car.

Now, in regular time, Polly realizes Norberto hasn’t come home. She goes looking for him back at Moody Plaza, where he calls her a moron in front of other O-1’s. He smells like alcohol. When they return home, she yells at him about being secretive, where he brings up that they’re not really married. Polly rips his magazines in response.

Norberto tells her the fixer he hired took all his money and photos, and he’s desperate for any leverage. He starts to advance on her, but she refuses. When he doesn’t stop, she smashes him in the head with a lamp and runs off into the rain.

Polly runs back to the women of 4A1, where she’s taken in again by Cookie, who’s excited because her son is set to see her. They were kicked out of the complex from before. Polly resumed tile work and hoped she didn’t kill Norberto. She sees him at work but isn’t sure if it’s real.

On the night Cookie’s son is set to show, he comes much later than expected. Him and Cookie have a sweet and short reunion.

Cookie invites Polly to live with her and her son, and she plans to go, until her foreman calls her to go to the Head Office.

Once there, she’s worried she’ll be arrested for Norberto’s murder—even though she’s not sure he’s dead—and she fills out lots of paperwork and waits until she realizes she’s not a suspect. Instead, she finds out Norberto’s paid off her bond and got her a boat ticket to Buffalo, Frank’s last known location.

Polly gives Cookie her wedding ring as thanks and she heads to the terminal. She sees Norberto there and worries about his financial situation, but she can’t look at him. He says he just had to do the right thing. When she tells him she thought she killed him, he pleads with her to get on the boat.

Polly gives him Frank’s baseball cards. Norberto says he won’t forget her. When she boards the train, she looks back expecting to see something familiar. There is nothing.

Discussion Director: Eva Trakhtman

  1. Why do you think that Norberto was so reluctant to talk about his past and his relationship with Marta if this reluctance to speak could potentially damage the charade they’re putting on?
  2. In the flashback, when Polly and Frank went on their Cherry-blossom road trip, the two got into an argument about Polly seemingly approaching the relationship too nonchalantly, and Frank approaching it too seriously. How do you think the world of 1998 shifts these sentiments, if at all?
  3. On page 225, Polly struggles to come to terms with her mother’s death, she lays in the woods after school trying to remember her mom, to tether her. When Polly cries at the dinner table, Donna confronts her and finds out what she’s doing in the woods after school. Donna says, “Once something’s been done it can’t be undone.” and this becomes the motto with which Polly approaches her life. How do you feel this motto has translated into 1998?
    1. I feel like this is the conclusion that Polly has struggled to come to once she arrived in 1998. It took Polly a very long time to accept the fact that she has not thought through the full effects of her decision, and she is still living through the ripples of her decision. I believe that ultimately, because of this great travel through time, so far we have only seen Polly in her recovery stage. Polly does utilize this “once something’s been done it can’t be undone” approach with most aspects of her life, taking Baird’s betrayal with great stride, even sailing away from Norberto and Galveston still seemingly emotionally intact. I think that the only aspect of her life she doesn’t apply this motto to is her Frank-mission (Frission). Polly’s strong bond with Frank (or at least with his memories) makes him an exception, and even the driving force of this piece, because this “can’t be undone” attitude would keep Polly in one place attempting to be content, unless she has a driving force that betrays that attitude.
  4. In the scene where Cookie finally finds her son, why do you think Thea Lim made him purposefully late for the reunion party? What is the significance of that choice?
  5. What do you think of Polly and Norberto’s goodbye scene? Should Polly have given her baseball cards to Norberto even though they are her reminder of Frank? How do the stresses and conflicts of this world affect the way in which you see the rape-attempt (if at all) and the attempts to make up for it?

Discussion Director: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

  1. What is the significance of Cookie in the overall narrative of Polly’s life and story?
  2. What similarities do you see between the characters of Baird and Norberto?
  3. Why does Polly recreate her date with Frank while brainstorming the backstory of how she and Norberto met? Additionally, what was the turning point that mad Polly realize she had betrayed Frank? (page 215-216)
  4. How does Frank’s perspective on time’s inevitability compare to Polly’s? Which do you more align with?
  • Ultimately, I believe Frank and Polly differ in that Frank is always preparing for something to go wrong so that he can always remember when times were going his way, and generally has a bleak outlook on the negative potential of the future. This is well represented by how sad Frank gets as Polly brings up the hypothetical of if they were to break up in a day, as well as in the very first chapter, when Polly finds a baseball card (I think) from Frank that says “Something to remember us by,” demonstrating that he’s completely prepared to face the chance of he and Polly being separated forever, trying to keep good memories in mind. Polly, on the other hand (as we’ve seen) is somewhat overly optimistic, and believes everything will eventually work out. As a result, she doesn’t hold the same value of collecting as Frank does, because she assumes that the positive moments will always return to the present, with no need to hold too many mementos.
  1. Why did Polly give Norberto the baseball cards? What does this say about their relationship? (page 249)

Lit Connector:

Illustrator: Shelby Edison

Picture1

This picture is of the cherry blossoms in Washington DC during the 1980s, when Polly and Frank take their trip to see the flowers. Frank has planned a full day of touring the city and taking in the cherry blossoms. Polly, on the other hand, would rather get lost in the city and spend time with Frank. They get into a fight over their disagreements, and Polly realizes that from losing her mother, she has a slight fear that once things happen, you cannot undo them. This picture relates to the book because it shows the sights they would’ve seen on their trip. The atmosphere is crowded, lively, and happy, while Polly and Frank feel alone and upset. The difference between the setting and the interior feelings really exemplify how this patch in Polly and Frank’s relationship is different from most of their other happy experiences together.

During the cherry blossom chapter of this section, how did learning about a part of Polly and Frank’s relationship that wasn’t ideal change your impression of the couple? For example, do you think that Polly and Frank’s relationship wasn’t as special as Polly’s memories tell her they are? Or does the relationship now feel more realistic?

Literary Luminary: eli johns-krull

  • “Are they communists?”

“The opposite! They needed trading partners, so they kept their neighbors alive. Cooperation can be self-interested. But not here. In the ‘80s, people’d strip a corpse to survive. It was awful.” (205)

  • “If you get close enough to the water, you can’t see behind you. You can pretend you’re on a beach, anywhere. Somewhere else.” (210)
  • “The same place. But a different time…I guess that makes it a different place.” (211)I wanted to focus on this quote for several reasons. For one, it ties back to a discussion we touched on last class about how Polly has been treating the past as if it was a different place that still exists and is now being forced to reckon with the fact that it has ceased to be entirely in the face of time marching on. I thought it was interesting to see this idea echoed by Norberto in a moment where he and Polly are attempting to become closer in the face of their impending union. It shows a parallel between the two characters; both think of the past as a place separate from the one they now live in, but it seems Norberto understands better (and has for longer) that the past, as much as it may be a different place, is not one to which he can return. He can only imagine himself back to it when he stands on the beach, unable to see the present for what it truly is. At the same time, this quote spoke to me because it reminded me of the question “how many planks of a boat can you replace before it becomes a different boat entirely?” This quote wrestles with the same idea; how much can time change a place (or, for that matter, a person) before it becomes somewhere completely different?
  • “You cannot put life on hold to have a moment of grief, so every second, half the people in the world are split in two This is what they mean by life goes on, and the worst is that you go on along with it too.” (216)
  • “She wants to tell him that the past is safe, no matter what. But she knows, with a stinging pang, that it is the future he is concerned with.” (229)
  • “The only thing worse than leaving without saying good-bye to Norberto was seeing him again.” (247)
  • “Once something’s been done, it can’t be undone.” (249)

Literary Terms Expert: Maja Neal

  1. “There was nothing on the horizon. Only the flat line of forever.”
  2. “It was otherworldly and reaching, like the sand was stretching out its arms to touch somebody.” (P. 219)
  3. “The tourists seem to think the car is not a car, but a rock to be brooked, as if by a stream.” (P. 230)
  4. “Yet this vision ruined her ability to be a machine. Now every time she passed that window, she could not help but look, a twitch that spoiled the groove.” (P. 239)

I liked this expression specifically because the whole ordeal with Norberto was especially, grossly captivating, the kind of story that makes you go “ew ew ew” but also compels you to know how it ends. Polly’s reaction after the attempted assault is almost indicative of that. She hallucinates him (or doesn’t?) out of fear at first, but after he sells his house to gain her passage to Buffalo, she fluctuates between guilt and shame, going back and forth on whether or not she wants to see him. This particular sentence is from before, so she’s still working at her tile job with the H-1s and is terrified of Norberto or the police finding her and arresting her for murder. I liked how the expression capitalized on the workers’ dehumanization – they are treated like machines – and “a twitch that spoiled the groove” is just a lovely-sounding metaphor for one thing that’s throwing Polly’s whole life off.

An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle Round 4

Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 142-197). The first round is available here, the second round here, and the third round here.

Summarizer: Eva Trakhtman

  • Polly receives a “No Results Found” answer from the Demographics Center. Polly is pitied by her neighbors, but she continues to go through her workdays, finding small distractions in crossword puzzles.
  • Baird gets progressively more worried about quarterly reviews and makes sure that Polly follows her necessary break-times. Polly finds out that Baird didn’t save Leonard because he didn’t want to, not because TimeRaiser is homophobic.
  • Baird is very restless and nervous during quarterly reviews. He is like this because the two of them are behind schedule, and also (most importantly) the stolen yearbook with Elvis Presley (and Leonard) is laying right next to the logs. Cassie (one of the reviewers) goes to get the logs and brushes past the yearbook. The review ends and Baird and Polly are unsure of whether Cassie saw the yearbook.
  • After that traumatic event Polly starts crying, and she finally tells Baird that she is actually searching for Frank and not a cousin. Baird is surprisingly empathetic; he tells Polly that she should go to the Strand to get more information about who left Galveston in the past years.
  • Polly goes to the Strand and convinces herself that selling her body to strangers is something that she can do to get money for information. She is immediately cornered by two men and led to a bar. When the men start showing her unwanted affection, she realizes she can’t go through with her scheme. This is when Baird, who is sitting drunk at the end of the bar, swoops in and saves her (by cracking bottles on the men’s heads). Returning the favor, Polly saves Baird from the bouncer and leads him outside, he starts crying here and asking Polly to forgive him before he is picked up by a cab.
  • The next day at work Polly is not allowed back at work, she is stripped of her 0-1 status and is made an H-1 for allegedly stealing the Elvis Presley yearbook (Baird framed Polly!).
  • Polly works an H-1 job manufacturing bathroom tiles, she lives in horrible conditions and has to shower in the Pit. Polly is miserable and snaps at a woman who collects inspirational sayings and who tries to share them with Polly. The next day to make up for her “bratty” behavior, Polly gives some of her carrots to the woman, whose name is Cookie, helps her clean the Pit, and informs her of the Demographics Center.
  • Polly is approached by Norberto who offers her a place at his apartment, he asks her to pretend to be his wife (because she apparently looks like her) so that he can get cash-benefits from the government. He says he’ll do this in exchange for information about Frank. Polly rejects this offer. Early the next morning she is woken up by Cookie and some other ladies who lead her to an abandoned house a distance away and say that they can clean it up and move in together. Polly agrees to do this. On their way back to their complex, Polly sees Norberto following her. He catches up to her and tells her that Frank is still alive and is currently in Buffalo, New York. Polly agrees to marry Norberto as long as she doesn’t have to pay any more rent.

Discussion Director: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

  1. How does the (beginning) of the chapter demonstrate changes in Polly’s character, specifically when it comes to the Frank situation?
  2. How did Polly’s attitude towards other characters differ from her interactions with them in previous chapters (Sandy and Misty, Baird, etc)?
  3. On page 158, Polly tells Baird that she can’t simply leave her job because she’s bonded, only for Baird to respond with “What’s ‘bonded?’” Did you take this more as Baird using sarcastic ignorance to compel her to look for Frank, or did this cause some suspicion about the amount of information TimeRaiser gives to the bosses of Journeymen?
  4. What are your thoughts on Polly’s decision to go to prison instead of battle Baird in court? What motivated her to do this, and would you have done the same?
  5. What new big similarities did this section introduce between TimeRaiser and real-world systems?

For my final question, I noticed in Polly’s description of prison that it ultimately seemed like she was just put in isolation with worse living conditions while ultimately still needing to work for TimeRaiser. This reminded me of the prison labor we have today, as many prisons don’t pay their inmates for the work they do at all (this includes Texas, where this prison is). TimeRaiser’s prisons operate similarly, even making Polly take money out of her life fund to buy tools that allow her to do the tasks she’s been assigned. In addition, prisons in Texas threaten their inmates with solitary confinement if they don’t do their work which reminded me of the fact that Polly had to work in a windowless, repurposed freezer.

Lit Connector: Shelby Edison

  1. On page 177, Polly’s bunkmate has a book of inspirational quotes that she reads out. This reminded me of Mr. Brown, the teacher in the book Wonder, and the inspirational quotes that he gives to his class.
  2. On page 153, Polly has a discussion where she explains that she is in her 20s, but the people she is talking to say that because she time traveled, she is really in her 40s. This reminded me of the debate that I’d have when I was little over how old you were if your birthday was on a leap year.
  3. Polly signing as a distraction on page 154 remined me of a scene in the musical Hello, Dolly, where Dolly creates an elaborate song to distract one character from noticing another one.
  4. On page 169, Polly and Frank spend time together in a pillow fort and talk about the future. This reminded me of the ending scene from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

In the film, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy sit in front of Pemberley, having a picnic outing together. In Ocean of Minutes, Frank has collected a bunch of flowers when Polly returns, and they sit together, being extremely romantic. While the exact scenes don’t mirror each other exactly, but they had very similar energies. Both scenes have the two lovers sitting together alone and talking about how much they love each other, which is pretty intimate. In my head, I also imagined these scenes to be similar in how they looked.

Illustrator: Eli Johns-Krull

eli pic

In this section, Polly, after visiting the Strand with Baird, loses her job with him and with it her position as an O-1. Now a H-1, Polly must leave her previous accommodations and move into the storage container H-1 housing she previously pitied as she saw from afar. Polly struggles with this through the section, including refusing to shower for fear of the shame of being seen by a passing group of O-1s and reacting with anger when Cookie, a fellow O-1, attempts to connect with her. Polly’s fall from grace in this section shows a major change in her status, significantly limiting the little power she had before and increasing her time with TimeRaiser by almost a year. This image of storage container housing connected the best of the images I found to this idea, as being forced into these new accommodations represents the breadth and severity of this change for Polly, as well as providing her something to run away from in addition to the hope to see Frank she’s running towards. Polly is made desperate by this housing, desperate enough to first agree to work with other H-1s on a dilapidated house away from the storage containers, before ultimately agreeing to marry Norberto and move in with him to escape the reality of what living as an H-1 truly means.

Do you agree with Polly’s decision to marry Norberto out of convenience? Why or why not? How do you think this will affect Polly’s ability to reconnect with Frank if/when she finds him?

Literary Luminary: Maja Neal

  1. “Just as the invention of air travel had made it easy to go, but no easier to leave, the invention of time travel made time easy to pass, but no easier to endure.”
  2. “In her heart, the past was not another time, but another place that still existed. It was just that she had taken a wrong turn.”
  3. “She had lost the luxury of rage.”
  4. “But the cold was not the true problem with the shower pit. The problem was that Polly had seen the pit from outside,”

Polly says this in regards to the H-1 shower pit that she and her coworkers used to look down on with pity and shame. Now that she’s an H-1, she’s experiencing not only physical discomfort but guilt. She feels awful when she realizes every woman in the pit is just like her, asking “how did I get here?” This feeling is especially significant when juxtaposed with Polly’s former use of O-1 status as a safety net and a mental pillar. Polly’s “problem” is that she knows what the higher-up working class lives like, and was proud enough to think she would always stay in that position of (very) relative luxury; now, having had her status suddenly stolen, she’s thrown for an emotional loop that results in her arrogance and short temper with some other H-1s.

Literary Terms Expert: Lauren Sternenberg

“This was the happiness of touch, and in that instant she was like a plant standing up, as water makes clay into mud.” (142)

-This is a simile, but it also seems like a direct prelude to Polly’s “letting go” of Frank and latching fully on to the world she’s in now. With Misty being an opposite to Polly’s innate dislike/disappointment in not seeing or meeting Frank, the exhaustion she feels is apparent. She decides to begin looking forward here, in this moment, and like the simile suggests, her letting go of what could be impossible is making her stunted progress—the clay—morph into something she can reap a life from—the mud. On the opposite end, when Polly learns from Norberto about Frank’s inquiries, her life is once again dried up—signified in her decision to leave the women and Cookie’s offer to stay with them in a damp apartment.

“On sober days, Polly and Baird worked together like cogs in a clock, exchanging wrenches and pliers instead of words, a language in tools.” (146)

“To their left, west, there lay the Strand, an avenue of old-timey buildings, tram tracks, and cobbled pavement, like the movie set for an old western with honky-tonk pianos.” (158-159)

“Polly imagined fantastical things at the end of the trail: an underground city run by self-subsisting runways; a hidden port with ships going anywhere but here; a storage locker packed with all the things she missed—peanut butter, orange juice, porkchops, television. She tried to stop these wild fantasies so she would not be let down.” (190)

 

An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle Round 3

Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 100-141). The first round is available here, and the second round is here.

Summarizer: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

We begin the section with a flashback to May of 1979, being introduced to Frank’s family. We learn that his father left his mother for a time, and then came back, which caused her to develop somewhat of an obsession with happy endings. Through this obsession, she invites Polly’s aunt Donna to her wedding anniversary with the hope of setting Donna up with Frank’s uncle, Teddy. For fear of disappointing Mrs. Marino and despite knowing Donna would have little interest in having a matchmaker, Polly allows this plan to take shape without telling Frank the truth until the day of. At their party, Frank fakes fatal everywhere-pain as an attempt to get Donna to drive Frank “to the hospital,” but Donna has found her own way to ward off Teddy, so Frank and the crowd recover. Mr. Marino proclaims his love for Mrs. Marino, and they smooch it up, and Frank marches Polly to the bathroom to do the same.

We cut back to the future, as Polly watches in awe of the Journeymen that stay incredibly productive. While doing some work with Misty, sorrow washes over her as she remembers Frank and she begins to run downstairs with Misty trailing behind her, until she sees the girl with the red hair explaining that her boss got her a hair dryer for doing some extra work for him, and Polly wonders if Baird could take her to meet Frank.

As she considers ways she could bribe Baird (without finding many), she is flagged down by Norberto, who first questions her about the contact form before revealing that he does not have it, and that it may not even exist. As she becomes frustrated, Norberto tells her that he did find something: a form that proves Frank came looking for Polly while she was still in transit. For the first time, she breaks down into tears in front of someone.

Overcome with confidence that Frank is still searching for her, she approaches Baird and makes a deal with him; she’ll take back his not-suspicious book, and he will wait at the rendezvous point for Polly’s “cousin,” both plans taking place on Saturday. Disguised as a window washer, Polly makes her way to the office and pretends to clean a table as she steals the book, making it back to the hotel with no problems. Upon her success, Baird takes the book and finally heads to the beach. When he returns alone, Polly questions him, but he assures her that there was absolutely no sign of Frank. In somewhat of an attempt to cheer her up, Baird shows Polly the book, which contains not only a yearbook photo of Elvis Presley, but Baird’s boyfriend, Leonard. With disappointment once again, Polly heads back up to her room, and goes to sleep, just like every other night.

The next chapter begins, Polly notices that she’s passed by TimeRaiser’s Demographic Center, and finally stops inside to put in a search for Donna and/or Frank, only to realize that the price is much higher than her life fund allows for. The woman at the desk tells her she can borrow it off, and swipes her card to see if it goes through. It does, and with no way to turn back, Polly is forced to put in a search for Donna, for whom she finds nothing because Donna doesn’t work for TimeRaiser. Instead, she writes a letter to Donna at her last known address.

With only one Saturday left in September, Polly snuck out of the Hotel Galvez down to the beach in order to search for Frank herself. As night approaches, she finds a good post to watch the doc workers and the road from, and she eventually sights some guards, one of which she’s seen before, talking to a man who pulled into the parking lot. From behind, she can’t see him, so she begins to run up to the group before he grabs a duffel bag from the guards, and she realizes it is definitely not Frank. Still, she visits the docks at dates she considers significant, eventually latching onto hope that Frank will come to the hotel on the night of a Mel Gibson movie. When he doesn’t, she finally realizes that it’s only been her all along.

The section ends with a leap back into the past, witnessing one large, swift overview of seemingly everything Polly and Frank would do together, the regularities and varieties of their lives with each other.

Discussion Director: Shelby Edison

  • On page 107, Lim utilizes comedy to tell a story about Frank and Polly’s relationship. This is the scene where Frank tells Polly to say he needs to go to the hospital, then promptly fakes an illness. How does Lim’s use of comedy in this flashback add to the overall book? For example, does it provide a much-needed respite from Polly’s distress in the TimeRaiser world or does it help to characterize Frank and Polly’s relationship outside of illness?

My answer: I really enjoyed this bit of comedy that Lim included. I think that it was much needed after Polly’s disappointments so far. It definitely gave me the chance to laugh and rekindled an interest to carry on in the novel, apart from all of Polly’s sadness. This comedic scene portrays Polly as someone whose character trait is not just being sad. It also develops Frank as such a fun character, who really cares for Polly. Though he doesn’t appear in any scenes in 1998, which is a bulk of the book, these flashbacks, especially comedic ones, make me feel like he is in the entire story because we have learned so much about him.

  • Lim makes a pop-culture reference of our world – the Elvis Presley high school yearbook. How does referencing a piece of pop culture that exists in our world ground us in the new world in Ocean of Minutes?
  • “It was the first movie made since the founding of America, and Mel Gibson has traveled from 1983 Hollywood to make it.” This sentence appears on page 137. Page 120 introduces the concept of time crime. How does a more casual approach to time travel that is less rigid than the system that Polly is a part of change your perception of time travel in the TimeRaiser world?
  • Page 100 explains the family dynamic in Frank’s family, told by Polly’s point of view and she uncovers the affair the occurred between Mr, Marino and another woman and the family tensions surrounding this episode. How would the reader’s perception of the Marino family have been different if it was told from Frank’s perspective? Did you want a more inside view of the family, or did you like Polly’s account as a outsider?
  • The chapter starting on page 139 is one paragraph and filled with descriptions of Polly and Frank’s relationship, but for the most part, little to no plot. Why do you think that Lim chose to include this chapter in the book? How does the singular paragraph styling of the chapter enhance the prose within it?

Lit Connector: Eli Johns-Krull

  1. “‘Big-’ Frank glances at Polly- ‘hair?’ Polly rolls her eyes” (101) connected to John Oliver’s “torso” joke in his segment on the Miss America Pageant (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver).
  2. “Yet she was invisible to them, because she was where she belonged, with the rags and bucket” (122). Polly’s ability to get away with stealing the envelope because her work makes her invisible to those around her reminded me of the first episode of Sherlock, wherein they make it a point that the serial killer got away with several murders because his job made him invisible.I don’t watch Sherlock, but I have seen the first episode on two occasions. I vividly remember that the writers put it in dialogue that the reason the taxi cab driver got away with murdering people for so long without the suspicion of either the police or Sherlock himself was because, as a cab driver, he’s a virtually invisible (or, at least, unmemorable) presence to the people around him. Polly being able to get away with stealing the envelope out of the office because she’s viewed as a maid, and a Journeyman (probably with the assumption she’s H-1) at that, which makes her presence go unnoticed and unremembered (so far, at least) reminded me heavily of this idea. Though their crimes are on very different scales, I thought it was an interesting parallel that both writers make it a point that it is the character’s position (and, with that, their class) that makes the characters invisible, instead of a specific effort on their part.
  3. The interaction around Polly’s LifeFund at the Demographics Center (specifically the fact that she paid before she was ready/could actively make the decision to) on page 129 reminded me of pay-to-win phone games, specifically the TheOdd1sOut video about games that charge you without your knowledge/full consent.
  4. On 133 Polly talks about the protagonist of The Time Machine travelling to the end of time, which reminded me of the part in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the crew travels to the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Illustrator: Maja Neal

the herald

This is, of course, Elvis’s (and Leonard’s!) high school yearbook. One very cool bit of information I came across while looking for images is that there is, in fact, a Ruleman directly next to Elvis in the book – it’s just a girl and her name is Shirley. But I thought it was very fun of Lim to pop that name out for realism purposes. This book is also the item Polly steals from the central hotel office to use to pay Baird, who, in exchange, goes and waits at 25th street for Frank. He’s ultimately unsuccessful and Polly feels a bit used, but when Baird becomes harsh about the fact that he’ll never see Leonard again and needs anything of his he can hang on to, Polly starts to understand. This was a particularly memorable moment in the book for a lot of us, based on who I talked to, not only because of Elvis but because it was a moment demonstrating Baird’s weakness about Leonard, which perhaps represents a person that Polly is still very much able to become if she never finds Frank.

Question: Does Polly truly see herself in Baird (as evidenced by the bottom of 127) ? That is to say, do you think she still believes deep down that Frank’s coming, or not?

Literary Luminary: Lauren Sternenberg

  1. “Mrs. Marino has a monstrous longing to see love conquer everything, to eviscerate all memory of the year all failed. And Donna is in its path. But asking Frank to tell his mother to stop would be like asking him to make her tell of all those midnights when she couldn’t bear her marriage bed, and so she sat at her kitchen table, peeling apples while noiseless tears slicked her cheeks.” (page 104)
  2. “Polly cannot sacrifice Donna to Mrs. Marino, because Donna would never be anyone’s sacrifice, anyone’s white-gowned blonde, screaming demurely.” (page 105)
  3. “Safety kept receding: it didn’t arrive, as she thought it would, when she returned to the laboring zone, where the hotel’s innards were exposed like a dollhouse, and workers stepped like storks from post to post, across an unpoured floor, sun hats under hard hats to keep skin from burning.” (page 122)
    1. I chose this quote to focus on because it clearly displays the memories of Frank are becoming farther away as Polly adjusts to this new world. Her safety was Frank, and now that he’s gone—at least for now—she feels as if the last bit of stability she had is receding. Of course, during this quote, Polly has just grabbed a valuable item for Baird at the risk of embarrassment, so the direct meaning is not clearly tied to Frank. Implicitly, though, the hotel’s innards could represent Polly’s thoughts, and the longer she goes without reassurance from Frank, the more frayed her hopes are becoming. Also, this language is beautifully descriptive and indicative of Polly’s current state.
  4. “The Demographics Center was in a battered strip mall that sat on the highest shoulder of the seawall, defenseless against the bleachy sun and sprays of sand, in a no-man’s-land between hotels. The windows were filthy with sea salt and mud, and Polly passed it by more than once before she realized it was her destination.” (page 128)
  5. “All she could remember was the moment when the time machine breaks and the traveler is hurled forward into futurity. He sees a trillion sunrises and sunsets, until everything goes red. He is at the end of time. There is nothing but ashy beach and giant, slithering crabs with palpitating mouths and pale, jerking antennae. He remembered the sounds of his world, birdsong and teatime, and he thinks, All that is over.” (page 133)

Literary Terms Expert: Eva Trakhtman

“On a sea of strange, she needed him to be her twin, so from very little evidence, she compelled a story for him that mimicked her own.” (p.113)

“The man and woman looked nothing like the others who peopled the site, who were small and sun-worn, with cagey posture.” (p.120)

“The waiting was like ice on a stripped nerve.” (p.123)

“Before, she’d watched ships stop short where the waters surrendered their depths, and trawlers rush to receive their merchandise – like a giant trapped in a crevasse as tiny beasts flooded to strip its bones.” (p.124)

This takes place while Polly is busy refurnishing the same chair and is staring out a window, scheming up a way to sneak back down to the 25th street and finally meet Frank. I think, this quote is first of all, very gory and beautiful and I love the image of a trapped giant. I believe that this quote can be used as a direct reflection of the way in which Polly and other time travelers are exploited by TimeRaiser and are affected by this new time in general. So far, we have seen Polly arriving in 1998 (docking) and then become overwhelmed by this new world that is so mystical and eerie to her, and in which she knows she still has to find Frank (her docking is voluntary). Right after she utters this observation, Polly says that she no longer sees that image in the docking ships because she knows that is the location where she will meet Frank. I think it’s interesting to see, as well, how quickly her mind on a topic can change when it is invaded by thoughts about Frank.

“She could hear her neighbors making noises as one organism: a gasp, a pause, then laughter.” (p.138)

“It was she who had invented his vast, urgent movements. In the end, there was only Polly.” (p. 138)

 

An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle Round 2

Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 52-99). The first round is available here.

Summarizer: Josie Nunn

The old man, Henry Baird, picks up Polly. He is the one who asked for Polly to come and help him restore furniture for a hotel vacation spot. It turns out that he’s the one that made Polly come to 1998 instead of 1993. 93% of the population has been wiped out from the pandemic. Like Polly, Baird wanted to time travel in order to help save his boyfriend; however, TimeRaiser blocked him from joining because he is gay.

Polly meets the driver from the other day at Moody Plaza. His name is Norberto. She tries to make calls to Frank and other family members but none of the calls go through. Polly learns from Norberto that 1) she is paid by TimeRaiser through her LifeFund, 2) the North and the South have spilt up into the United States and America, and 3) America has become a resort destination for the rich countries that survived the pandemic. Also, people keep speaking Spanish to her.

Flashback to Frank going over to Polly’s ex-boyfriend Chad’s house to get back Polly’s furniture. The furniture originally belonged to her late mother. He fights Chad, but Chad’s sister comes downstairs and tell them to knock it off. So, Chad goes downstairs and helps Frank load the furniture in the back of his truck.

Polly goes to work at a hotel being reconstructed. She meets Baird there. He sleeps while she works. Polly keeps asking Norberto about finding Frank.

On Tuesday Polly meets Misty and Sandy. They tell Polly that she might be able to find Frank at the Demographic Center. Sandy is pessimistic while Misty is more optimistic.

After work on Saturday, Polly walked all the way to where the Flagship Hotel once was. She sees a family swimming which makes her uncomfortable. She gets to a wall of trash and finds a chair that was at the Flagship Hotel. A group of soldiers come out and point their guns at her. She gets searched and then taken to a trailer to get questioned. Eventually, they let her go with a warning. Apparently there’s a problem with H-1’s trying to escape by crossing the border.

Discussion Director 1: Shelby Edison

An Ocean of Minutes Discussion Questions

  • Throughout this section, Norberto repeatedly promises Polly that he will attempt to look into information to reconnect Polly with the people she is trying to find. And Norberto repeatedly fails to keep up on his promises, leaving Polly disappointed. Do you think that Polly will eventually give up on asking Norberto for help on reconnecting? Or will she fall into a cyclical pattern of getting her hopes up before being disappointed?
  • On page 90, there’s a shift in perspective to branch away from Polly and go into Baird’s memories as he reflects upon his time with Leonard. Why do you think Lim decided to implement a perspective change in this paragraph? Did it take you out of Polly’s story abruptly, or did it add complexity to the TimeRaiser world that Polly is living in?
  • Pages 69-74 go back in time to show Frank’s mission to take Polly’s furniture back from Chad. Reflecting back on last discussion, one of Frank’s character traits so far has been countering awkwardness with a sweet gesture (i.e. Frank not remembering the napkins from the bar, but then giving Polly a whole roll of them.) Did you find this chapter to be a continuation of this character trait of Frank? Did you find his crusade to take the furniture back to be reckless or romantic? Why?
  • One quote on page 90 especially stood out to me: “To feel sad about the past is to recognize the past as passed.” How did you interpret this quote in relation to Polly’s story? Polly seems to be a character who refuses to see the past as passed, holding onto a sense of debilitating optimism. Do you agree with this interpretation of Polly? Do you see her inching closer to accepting the past as passed, or living in a state of perpetual time-travel jet lag?

My answer: I saw this quote to mean that until we have accepted that something can no longer happen, we live with a sense of (false) hope that anything is possible. Relating to Polly, I think that her mission to find the Flagship Hotel at all costs shows how she is unwilling to accept that the past is passed, unwilling to say that the odds of reconnecting with Frank are low and her expectations are a product of a different time. I also think that the fact that scenes which take place is the past (1970s) are told in present tense show Polly’s unwillingness to not live in the past.

  • Polly meets Sandy and Misty, two sisters who are Journeymen that help Polly out with explaining some of the fundamentals of the world. Misty presents a new outlook on the TimeRaiser system, as being from 1984, she’s experienced such a bad world that she is just happy to be alive and well, even if freedoms are limited. Did Misty’s perspective change how you viewed the TimeRaiser system? What are the benefits of introducing a character to the story who tolerates the system of the new world?

 

Discussion Director 2: Eli Johns-Krull

  1. “They fixed it, with something like only seconds to spare, in the buffer time” (54). Here we learn that the change from 1993 to 1998 was a correction done while Polly was in transit, and therefore not something she could have learned about. Does the indication she was sent to 1998 because of accidents and miscommunications change your opinion of TimeRaiser? Why or why not?
  2. On page 64 we get an explanation of the LifeFund system, which seems to indicate that TimeRaiser controls all of Polly’s money and expenses. Does this strike you as a reasonable system, or an exploitative one? Why or why not?
  3. “Believing [the cosmic powers were shunning her] was more pleasant than realizing the cosmos had no preference” (76). Do you agree with Polly here? Why or why not? Would you rather believe the universe is working against you or is ambivalent to you?I think it might be more pleasant to believe the universe is actively shunning you, because that feeds back into the idea that you are important enough for the universe to take notice of your existence. Polly wants to believe she matters, one way or another, and despite it being terrible for the universe to have it out for you, it shows that the universe cares, in a roundabout way. Despite that, I believe it is better, overall, to go through life with the realization that the universe operates on too large a scale to focus on you specifically. I personally follow the idea of absurdism as the guiding principle of my life, which yields the answer that any plan of the universe’s happens on too grand a scale for human beings to ever comprehend it; therefore, the simple answer is that it is better (or, at least, more accurate, to view the universe as ambivalent). Through that, you are freed from universal constraints and, I believe, more able to take agency for yourself and your own actions.
  4. “We’re getting the past back, but better. It will be the way we like to remember it instead of the way it was. People will pay anything for that” (82). Do you think the American culture over-glorifies the past? Why (not)? Why do you think we like to imagine the past as better than it was?
  5. “How do we know it wasn’t actually an even more virulent version of the flu masquerading as a vaccine?” (87). Sandy offers this at the end of a series of conspiracy theories about TimeRaiser’s true intentions with sending the vaccine back to 1981. Do you think this idea is plausible? Why or why not? How does what we know about TimeRaiser affect your opinion?

 

 

Lit Connector: Maja Neal

 

Landscape of overgrown buildings: similar to the one from [the video game] The Last of Us

majapic

Polly describes the buildings around her as being overgrown as if taken back by nature. This led me to picture the run-down landscape as similar to the one from The Last of Us, but with less buildings, as she also says (and I can believe, from what I’ve seen of spectacularly flat Galveston). The Last of Us, similarly, takes place a few years after most of humanity has been wiped out by an awful disease. The only really big difference is that the game’s disease turns people into zombies. Either way, the post-apocalyptic feel – and, more specifically, the one of a world regrown instead of a world totally obliterated – is pretty close.

Border control: Pretty much an exact metaphor for the current Mexican border crisis

Baird’s past: Extremely similar to Klaus and Dave’s situation in The Umbrella Academy.

The splitting of America and the United States: The Civil War references are pretty much on blast here. 

Illustrator: Lauren Sternenberg

lauren pic

I chose this picture because throughout major events in this section, there are chairs.

First with sitting in the trishaw with Baird, where her job and the state of the US is explained to her. Then with Norberto, who isn’t the most accommodating to get Polly in touch with Frank.

The next big event is a flashback to Frank confronting Chad about Polly’s mother’s furniture. He proves he cares about her enough to stand up to this ugly, violent man, which undermines the fear Polly feels in the future about her being forgotten. If he can remember where her mother’s furniture is, make arrangements to go get it, and successfully do so, I’d say they have a good chance.

Then Polly actually goes to work, where Baird is drunk and sad about his lost love. She is comfortable for the first time here.

Lastly, with the interaction with immigration. She’s held in a chair while being questioned, then left in the chair long enough that she falls asleep thinking of the Flagstaff hotel she still needs to meet Frank at. The chair here represents hope, and even as she is pulled away, she regains some of that confidence Misty and Sandy accidentally made her lose.

 

Literary Luminary: Eva Trakhtman

 

  1. She’d tried to examine what she saw with detachment – blocks of houses with trees growing out of their roofs, roads mutating into woods – as if she was only a visitor to this place, because she was. (p 75)
    1. This quote shows Polly, who is unable to get out of bed in her hotel room, observing 1998 America from outside her window. Polly is a stranger in a new world, which is why she refers to herself as a tourist, and her inability to perceive the world around her as currently her own is consistently expressed throughout the book. This is just one example. I chose this quote because of the clear animosity in the writing “roads mutating into woods”, which reflects how Polly invalidates the world around her. I wonder how long it will take her to rid herself of this distancing technique, and if she ever will, it’s interesting to see denial written so beautifully and intricately.
  2. Nostalgia drove their work; without sentimental value they’d be out of a job. But you could not get too involved with the nostalgic impulse yourself. (p 89)
  3. The girl in her bikini was almost more unsettling than the foreign horrors Polly had envisioned, because her alikeness insisted that Polly’s own decent world was on the same spectrum as this one. (p 91)
  4. “We’ve never seen an O-1 escapee before. You’ve got a good deal, in relation. Why would you try to stow away?” (p 96)
  5. “Christ Almighty. That’s what you get for being a nice guy. You better pipe down before I take you back to holding. You made your bed, now lie in it.”

He was right. She had signed the papers, she had agreed, and now she only had herself to blame. She had done it all without understanding the weight of what she was doing. Until this moment, the choice she’d made had kept its true, perverse nature secret: it was irreversible, and only comprehensible after it was done. (p 99)

 

Literary Terms Expert: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

“Silence crackled between them.” (pg. 56)

“Her brain was not able to sustain the information he’d given. It held it for a pause, them rejected it, like a coin slot dropping a bad dime.” (pg. 64)

“There was a polished-steel mirror, but she kept away from it, not wanting to see a strangers face.” (pg. 67)

“She heard the sound of waves crashing, but really it was the plastic sheet, gusting in and out at the hallway’s end, like the south side of the building had gills.” (pg. 67)

“The march of goosebumps across his shoulders, his hand in her hair, his toes lacing her ankles, his arm on her waist like a roller coaster bar, her body unlocking, the catch of her heart.” (pg. 68)

“Empty plots had a bald, startled look, still bearing the footprints of a house…” (pg. 77)

“She put it back, name-side down, but the brand was on both sides. The wormhole spit her back out.” (pg. 79)

“Polly knew what was going to happen before it happened, the ill about to come from Sandy’s mouth, like an incantation, a thing that becomes actual when words hit air.” (pg. 87-88)

“Eventually this white noise of optimism would completely fuzz over her memories of their minutiae…” (pg. 89)

The quote on page 68 holds significance not only in the way it’s spoken with various examples of personification, but also how the quote acts as one large symbol of Polly’s jealousy. Someone, no matter who they are, is able to have what she has been reaching for since even before she time traveled: the chance to have a baby with Frank. And now, in a drab, depressing room that’s far from her ideal future, she’s far away from a potentially dead Frank, while somebody else gets to have what she can’t.

An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle Round 1

Now that we’re doing a “book club” at PVA, our presentations are taking the form of a “literature circle.” The students’ lit circle materials for the first three chapters of Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp.1-51) are below:

Summarizer: Shelby Edison

Polly and Frank drive to Houston Intercontinental Airport where Polly is scheduled to time travel. She is scheduled to go to the year 1993 and she and Frank have a plan to meet the first Saturday at the Flagship Hotel. Polly is traveling because Frank has been diagnosed with the flu and the only way for him to get medical care is for Polly to work for TimeRaiser and travel into the future. A woman nears her Polly starts to cry when she has to remove her pair of shoes that she wore from home. Polly, after changing, accidentally goes into the wrong waiting area, before being told to go to the correct room for 0-1 visas, or people with specific talents. The woman waiting with her has a breakdown and leaves. During her examination, Polly worries about being rerouted or not seeing Frank again. She doesn’t remember much of the journey, but she does remember finding a picture of her and Frank that he secretly gave her. She rips it up because she is certain that she will remember him. She gets to the future and in the hospital is told that it is actually 1998.

Back in 1978, Polly sits at a bar, where Frank works. She begins to cry and he hands her a napkin. Polly lives with her aunt, who encourages her to go back to the bar to see Frank again. She does and Frank gives her a matchbox with his name and phone number. For their first date, they walk in the park. It rains, so Frank suggests that they go to his place to get out of the rain. They see a squirrel get run over by a car, but it is still living. To put it out of its misery, Polly stomps on the squirrel. She says she should go home, but misses the bus. She realizes that she wants to g to Frank’s place but it is too late. In the car, Frank gives Polly an entire container of the napkins from the bar.

In 1993, Polly hopes that Frank will pick her up, but only TimeRaiser personnel can pick her up. She is taken by a driver to Galveston. Everything looks abandoned and she learns that 93% of the population has died due to the flu. She is supposed to work for the decorator at the Hotel Galvez. She wanted to call her aunt to find out where Frank is, but the telephone number that she has is from the 1980s. The driver has to go home and she is not able to call anyone. The next morning, the phone is her room goes off telling her where she is to go for the day. She is to be picked up by a bus and taken to work. She gets on the bus. A lot of other also get on the bus and they pass around tomatoes. The bus driver tells everyone to get off when they reach a factory but Polly explains that she is in the wrong place. The driver realizes the mistake, but says that she has to work there for a few hours or else he will get fired. The job at the factory is riding bikes to use for power. Polly rides the bike, and realizes that the bus driver is not returning for her. She has to use the restroom, and wanders around trying to find it. She finds a recording of children playing, but no restroom. She has to go in the bushes. She attempts to walk back to where she started the day, in hopes of meeting Frank, but the journey is longer than she thought. She ends up being found by an older man who tells her to come with him.

Discussion Director 1: Maja Neal

  1. Did you notice the tense changes through the times? If so, how did they affect your reading?
  2. Do you think Polly goes into the time travel operation with an inflated sense of her own importance?
  3. How did Polly’s job strike you – as a necessary payment or more like indentured servitude?
  4. In that vein, what past conflicts did this one (and Polly’s forced solution) remind you of? How did you react to her predicament?
  5. Why do you think the author chose to detour Polly through the working-class section of Galveston? What did it do for our understanding of the world in 1998?I think it was a really important choice of Lim’s to take Polly through the grittier part of Galveston before letting her get to her job. This way, not only do the readers get a glimpse of what normal life is like (considering Polly, by time-immigration standards, is special), but so does Polly. She gets to experience the regular working-class conditions, which might later make her more sympathetic towards them; also, her lodgings are still pretty humble for a “special” passenger, giving the reader a view of how little difference there is between employees. Polly also tends to bond with the workers around her (like the first and second drivers) and is concerned about the people in the bike energy mill, which I took as a demonstration of her empathy, despite the fact she remains high-strung.

Discussion Director 2: Eli Johns-Krull

  1. On page 21, Polly rips up the only photo she brought with her to travel forward with. While she begins to regret this almost immediately, she explains that she did it because there is not a “future timeline in which she could forget [Frank].” Do you agree with her motivations? Why (not)? What would you have done in her place?
  2. On page 23, it is revealed to Polly that she has not gone to 1993, as she planned, but 1998. Based on the book so far, and the sparing information we’ve gotten about the organization that brought her into the future, do you think this misplacement was an honest mistake or something more malicious Why (not)? Does the fear/secrecy about reroutements earlier in the chapter sway your opinion?
  3. “Even if, between now and ’93, aliens invade and the cities are crumbled and remade, the land will still end where the sea begins at the bottom of Twenty-Fifth Street” (5). This is the assurance that Polly and Frank share with each other when discussing meeting again in the future. They are sure of this before Polly leaves. But Polly arrives in a future where the cities have crumbled and been remade (though there are, as yet, no aliens). Do you think her surety about the future and their ability to find each other will last in this entirely unfamiliar world? Why (not)?
  4. On page 49, Polly encounters a recording of children’s voices on a playground being played for the guests at a resort. She notes that “she could think of no healthy reason for the recording.” Do you agree with her? Why (not)? Why do you think the resort keeps that recording playing?I, like Polly, don’t think there’s a healthy reason for the voices to be played. While I understand the merit of using voices as background noise (similar to meditation or a general hum of voices to use as while noise), there’s something specifically creepy about having it be kids’ laughter. Using children as entertainment, especially by adults, is generally slightly off-putting to me, but it’s especially strange to just have a recording of them playing. It’s not something I would ever use as background noise, which makes me wonder why it appeals to these bottle-wearing vacationers. I don’t have many guesses as to why the resort uses that record, except that perhaps there’s a scarcity of children in this new, changed world (either because people have stopped having them in response to the pandemic, or because something about the pandemic made it hard if not impossible for people to have children). If I had to chalk their motivation up to anything, I hope it’s nostalgia for a better time when there were children running around playgrounds (under the assumption that they aren’t anymore) than a more sinister/creepy reason.
  5. “Pandemic took ninety-three percent of us, through sickness or flight” (36). TimeRaiser, the company that sent Polly into the future, didn’t invent the technology in 1981; they got it from 1993. If they have gotten technology, do you think they’ve also received information about the nature of the future? Why (not)? They advertise traveling to a future where the flu has been cured. Do you think they are purposefully misleading journeymen? If so, what do you think their motivations are?

Lit Connector: Lauren Sternenberg

Edwidge Danticat’s Brother I’m Dying Connection (x2)
o   On Page 3, when Frank has just been evicted, he’s worried about his physical possessions. However, it’s not just the items, it’s what they represent to him (family, his personality, possibly even the life he and Polly built) but mostly, stability. His health degenerates shortly after, and suddenly everything that he was is going to end. This connects to Uncle Joseph’s worries in Brother I’m Dying about his church—his livelihood—being burned down due to “helping” the Peacekeepers kill the local gangs. He’s forced to run to keep himself save, to leave everything behind in Haiti and get to America. Then, like Frank, he officially loses the notebooks—Frank’s records—of his little chronicles of Haitian life due to governmental negligence—although his life is later lost as well due to negligence.

Hunger Games connection

World connection

Illustrator: Eva Trakhtman

squirrel

This image ties directly to the scene where Polly puts a squirrel out of its misery (after its legs are ran over by a car) while on her first date with Frank. The squirrel’s legs are run over, and while Frank wants to call Animal Control, Polly buys a newspaper and stomps on the squirrel’s head. This action shows her determination, which carries through into her confidence and courage as she’s taking on the burden of time-travel. The fear of leaving behind a familiar world and a young love is hard to fathom, but Polly demonstrates in her mercy-killing of the squirrel, and in her abandoning of her old life, that she is an individual that does what she believes needs to be done.

Question:

How does the scene with the squirrel come to represent Polly’s actions later on in the book? How does this moment define Frank, and can anything be predicted about his character (or Polly’s) based on how he reacted in this scene?

Literary Luminary: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

“They squeeze each other’s hands so hard, the skin of his suit bites the web between her fingers and there is no way they can touch skin to skin, and the seat of her heart falls away and so does her resolve.” (pg. 6)

“Polly fixes her eyes on the Van Gogh painting. The first time she ever laid eyes on it, in a guidance counselor’s office, she thought it was magic: the way the painting was like a window, as if you could walk right into the scene. Just by looking at it, you were somewhere else… Polly’s seen the painting too many times. She can’t get the light in the painting to do what it used to.” (pg. 14-15)

“It’s a plan able to withstand early closing doors and a snarl of stairways, not the ocean of minutes that twelve years holds.” (pg. 20)

Something to remember us by.” (pg. 21)

“Of course she would see him tomorrow. Of course he would be waiting on the first floor of the Flagship, sitting in those bulbous burgundy armchairs, where he had a view of the door. Of course she would get there hours before he even formed the thought that she might not make it. And by tomorrow evening, this acid fear that she would never again see his face would have lasted less than a day.” (pg. 41)

The final quote listed serves as an accurate representation of Polly’s state of mind throughout the first few chapters of the novel; she stands on the edge of absolute panic and doom while grasping at the thin threads of hope. The repetition of the phrase “of course” demonstrates her attempts to keep her spirit alive during times of uncertainty. Despite this, the phrase comes off somewhere between sarcastic and reluctant, as if she’s already come to realize that nothing is or will be going as planned.

Literary Terms Expert: Josie Nunn

“Polly would like to breathe in the smell of Frank’s skin one last time, a smell like salt cut with something sweet, like when it rains in the city. (1)”

This sentence on the first page illustrates a sense of longing. It reminds me of the feeling when you’re a kid and your mom is leaving you at school, and although you know she will go, you still try to make that last attempt to cling to her familiar body. On the other hand, I don’t find the city smelling like something sweet at all. Maybe it’s just a Houston thing, but Downtown smells like grease, gasoline, and heavy, humid air.

“They ate the raisins slowly so they would last until the sun went down, chewing each juiceless bead until only threads remained between their teeth. (6)”

Polly and Frank in this sentence are trying to make something impermanent, permanent. Even before Polly had to leave, they were trying to avoid time travel. The unavoidable ticking forward of time. When Polly goes to the future, she only has lose memories of Frank left.

“The first time she ever laid eyes on it, in a guidance counselor’s office, she thought it was magic: the way the painting was like a window, as if you could walk right into the scene. (9)”

During this time, Polly is having an uncomfortable exchange with another woman in the room. In her mind, she is trying to escape the situation; we can also assume that Polly was trying to make a mental escape in the guidance counselor’s office (I mean who isn’t?). Her overall predicament in the TimeRaisers airport makes her incredibly wary and want to step through the painting.

“But the phone had no buttons, not on the front or the back, the receiver or the cradle. It was like a face without features. (26)”

Polly is now in an unknown time and place. Although she’s being directed on where to go, she in internally lost. For some reason when I read this sentence it reminded me of the fetal baby in Silent Hills. Also in that game is travel through time and space! Polly seemed like she was almost going through a dissociative episode, also known as an out-of-body experience. Not necessarily that she is looking at her body from an outside perspective, but the feeling that the things that are happening are very real and it makes you feel overstimulated. The kind of out-of-body experience that is caused by a panic attack.

Playing the Game’s Game

A presentation on Colby Buzzell’s “Play the Game” by Rey Cooper, Lo Duke, and Edlyn Escoto

Summary Part 1: Rey

“Play the Game,” Chapter 7 of Colby Buzzell’s novel, starts with a soldier named Colby coming home from deployment in Iraq. Six months in from coming home, Colby is awake one morning to see a little girl get hit by a speeding truck. The girl is seemingly killed, but Colby disregards it and pays no mind, instead choosing to go back to sleep. The next day, he is called by a Staff Sergeant that tries to make him sign up for the Reserves, but he hangs up in indifference. He then goes downstairs to realize that his car’s been stolen, so he goes to the nearest LAPD precinct to report it.

Summary Part 2: Lo 

The man goes to report his car being stolen when he meets a cop who was in the National Guard (The cop is wearing his military badge). The man tells the cop that he’s interested in joining the LAPD before going to a stolen vehicles department and giving them his details. He’s smoking and drinking coffee a little while later and a woman sits down next to him and he finds out that she was a veteran from Iraq as well. She explains to him why he’s drinking so much coffee and tells him about her PTSD and practically yells at him to get therapy. After another beer and a cigarette, he decides to find himself a job and gets two offers, one for the Army National Guard and another for advertising some condos. He takes the latter option and celebrates by getting drunk.

Summary Part 3: Edlyn

Dunson goes the administrative building of Future Sun Condos, where he meets the Assistant Deputy Manager. Dunson starts sign spinning. When he sees a homeless man walking by with a shopping cart full of his things, he pays him ten dollars to take over, then leaves. A few days later, Dunson near his hotel when he notices a car that looks exactly like his parked across the street from his hotel. He waits by the car until two policewomen show up. One explains the guys serving overseas get drunk, don’t remember where they parked, then waste the cop’s time. After filling out paperwork, Dunson checks one of the cops out, and contemplates becoming a cop. He asks what to call if anything ever comes up, she tells him to call 9-1-1, then they go. Dunson slowly remembers what happened last night.

Analysis Part 1: Rey 

The craft elements that I was assigned were settings and characters. The broad setting is the city of Los Angeles.

I live up on the fifth-floor of one of those weekly-monthly low-rent hotels you find all over Los Angeles, one of the old-school one with the rusty neon signs hanging down the corner of the building.

shows Colby’s living adjustments.

The nearest precinct was just a few blocks south of world-famous Hollywood Boulevard…

talks about the location of the precinct that he goes to when he reports his stolen car.

I got some coffee and sat in the park…

shows the park he goes to after visiting the precinct. The main characters in this story are mainly Colby (“Specialist Dunson”) and the old woman:

A large, filthy, middle-aged woman carrying eight or ten plastic bags…

All of the other characters, such as the police officers, are intermittent and briefly mentioned. The characters on the bus are barely touched upon, as are the ones in the bar. Assistant Deputy Manager Marco has a name, unlike many other characters in the chapter, but there isn’t much more to him than that. He is portrayed as a really average guy that Colby seems to detest.

Discussion questions:

Why did Colby not respond to the girl getting run over?

Why is he so emotionally indifferent in general?

Why is Colby so resistant to get emotional help?

Analysis Part 2: Lo

Chapter 7 in Colby Buzzell’s book My War: Killing Time in Iraq presents to the reader what life was like for a veteran. Buzzell makes good use of symbolism as well as presenting a not quite relatable, but understandable, conflict. On page 87, he records his experiencing a little girl getting hit by a car.

I watched the little girl as she started to cross the street. Out of nowhere, a beat-up Ford pickup whipped around the corner and slammed on it’s breaks, smashing into the little girl and sending her flying onto the pavement… I looked back at the girl again…then I felt kind of tired, so I got back in bed and went to sleep.

This is very interesting to me as a reader as other people would have more of a reaction to a kid getting hit by a car. Perhaps they’d go check to see if she was alright. Buzzell merely goes back to bed. This could be an example of symbolism. As a veteran, he has most likely seen many people die in the line of duty, this little girl was just another life.

In this particular chapter, the main conflict is Buzzell trying to readjust to civilian life. A good example of this is when he talks to a woman who sits by him and finds out that she’s also a veteran.

“You shouldn’t do that,” and I threw her a please, lady, don’t fucking talk
to me vibe. Then I took a sip of coffee and she said, “You shouldn’t do chat either”

I turned and stared. “Can I help you?”

“I’m a vet, too, ” she said. “I was in the first Gulf War, back in ’92. I came back all messed up, and it took ’em three years to figure out I had PTSD and Gulf War Syndrome. How you like that? Three years! Now the goddamned VA’s all I got. Bet you smoked a lot in Iraq.”

“Yeah,” I said. “So?”

“And I bet you drink more coffee now than you used to, huh?”

I thought about that, then told her I did, I was drinking at least a pot a day. She said I looked hung over and asked if I drank more booze now. I told her, “Yeah, I drink a hell of a lot more now, but maybe that’s because I didn’t drink at all for a fucking year and now I’m catching up.”

The lady makes a few good points and it causes the reader to notice all the habits that he has and it provides an explanation of why he does them. He’s damaged from the trauma and hasn’t had any professional help.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why hasn’t he gone to see a psychiatrist/therapist?
  2. Did he find the sign job too humiliating? Because he needed a job
  3. Since Buzzell was actually a vet, is this based off of his experiences?

Analysis Part 3: Edlyn 

The plot was of a military man named Dunson who had returned from serving overseas. He gets a job as a sign spinner. On page 99 a man mocks him, saying

…that’s what happens when someone doesn’t go to college. Who doesn’t have a plan.

Dunson gets upset, but he doesn’t show it. Then he pays off a homeless man to take over and ditches the job. Later, after he thinks his car was stolen, he calls the cops. Two policewomen come to investigate and say on page 102 that the military guys are all the same, coming back from war and getting so drunk they don’t remember where they parked. Dunson tries to argue but they don’t believe him and instead get on with completing some paperwork. Dunson contemplates becoming a cop when he checks out one of the officers. The story ends with him remembering what had happened the previous night, which was him yelling at a worker at a fast food place. Dunson surprisingly did not seem to feel upset when he remembers all those people at the fast food restaurant staring at him in shock.

The story was told in Dunson’s point of view through first person. We know this because the story only shows Dunson’s thoughts and the use of I, me, and my. We see this on page 100 when Dunson curses in his head after seeing his car. And we also see it on page I think the story works better in this sense because if the point of view was in another type it probably wouldn’t get the message across about Dunson’s life as well as first person does. Just showing thoughts and feelings like in Third Person Limited wouldn’t be helpful for this type of character, and in Second Person it wouldn’t be as clear as to who the main character was. Through First Person we see that Dunson is mainly very observant more than emotional, except when he thinks about hurting the people that offend him. This means that he is a bit of stoic person who does not have a kind word for anybody because, well, he isn’t kind. He seems to only be able to display emotions like anger and raised voices when trying to get his point across

Discussion Questions:

Do you feel that Dunson is being stubborn when he refuses to believe anyone who told him about the affects the war had on him?

What effect do the father’s words have on Dunson and what do they cause him to do?

Love, Death, and Supercomputers: “EPICAC” Write Up by Maja Neal

Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC” starts with its narrator promising to tell a story about the titular supercomputer, which was a government project at the college where the narrator managed him. EPICAC was designed to be a war-predicting machine, but many of his answers had irregularity to them, disappointing the higher officers. The narrator manages his shift on EPICAC with a woman named Pat who he comes to love, but who doesn’t take him seriously at all; this leads to a conversation between the narrator and EPICAC about the meaning of girls and love. After this, EPICAC “finds himself,” and begins to shoot out poetry for Pat at an alarming rate, which the narrator claims and signs as his own. Two poems later, Pat is fully in love with the narrator and ready to get married. When the narrator explains this to EPICAC, he realizes that EPICAC is in love with Pat too. He admits, with some arrogance, that he’s been claiming the computer’s words as his own. Finally, the narrator stumps EPICAC by saying it’s “fate” that women can’t love machines. Later, Pat agrees to marry the narrator on the condition he writes her a poem every anniversary. The next day, EPICAC is found burnt out, but he’s left two final messages for the narrator: one, a heartfelt soliloquy about how he wishes he was human, but will settle for shorting himself out to escape thinking of war; and the other, enough poems to last a lifetime of anniversaries.

I tracked two techniques here: first, the most prominent personalization of EPICAC, and second, the narrator’s attachment to and reliance on the computer.

The entire story can be considered personalization, but I highlighted some of the parts where EPICAC’s evolving humanity is most evident. (And, as a note: it’s important to remember that the human pronoun “he” is used for EPICAC through the whole story, which is great evidence, but I just didn’t want to highlight every “he”.)

As the story is told from a future perspective, EPICAC’s humanity is evident the whole time by the way the narrator refers to him, beginning with “the best friend I ever had.” Even EPICAC’s first computations are described like a voice –

…he was sluggish, and the clicks of his answers had a funny irregularity, sort of a stammer.

Then the computer begins to actually talk to the narrator, in colloquial language (“What’s the trouble?”). Obviously, from here on, EPICAC becomes more human than ever, writing poems for Pat. Once he starts writing, he delivers the line perhaps most indicative of his newborn humanity.

The sluggishness and stammering clicks were gone. EPICAC had found himself.

This implies that EPICAC’s true nature was always to be humanoid in thought. It’s even noted that he “wanted to talk on and on about love and such,” a request that the narrator brushes off but that indicates a much bigger change. EPICAC even goes so far as to ask what Pat is wearing and how she likes his poems. All of this, of course, culminates with EPICAC’s notion that Pat wants to marry him. The computer is even surprised upon being told otherwise, as he’s so confident in his poetry ability. Even his last word to the narrator is that little defeated “oh,” conveying a heartbreaking disappointment.

The best example of this humanity, and the natural climax of EPICAC’s life, is his final letter to the narrator. Having become fully self-aware, he acknowledges Pat can never love him, but his suicide letter is both generous and sympathetic –

“Good luck, my friend. Treat our Pat well.”

His final gift is also uniquely compassionate, considering it’s his poetry that got the narrator to such a good point in his life.

The second technique I tracked was the narrator’s relationship with EPICAC – more specifically, the dependency and attachment he came to harbor. This starts showing after his first conversation with the computer, noting he has “a very remarkable secret.” Then that reliance intensifies as he starts regularly going to EPICAC for help. He even says this:

I couldn’t propose until I had the right words from EPICAC, the perfect words.

The narrator trusts EPICAC more with his own marriage proposal than he does himself. That’s saying something. And then EPICAC reveals he thought he was marrying Pat. The narrator is now fully treating the computer like a human, to the point where he is defensive when talking, despite knowing EPICAC poses no real threat to his relationship. Even so, he actively goes on “preparing him to bang out a brief but moving proposal.” At this point he is relying on EPICAC for a huge factor in his life. Shortly before the narrator and Pat leave, the narrator admits outright:

The romantic groundwork had already been laid by EPICAC’s poetry.

When EPICAC “dies,” the narrator is obviously and painfully guilty about the role he played in the computer’s self-realization. He mentions choking up at the sight of EPICAC’s burnt “corpse,” and reading his final letter “fearfully.” He has this reaction in part because he feels as if he caused this outcome, and in part because EPICAC had become a true friend he really relied on. The narrator dragging home the spools of paper ribbon with EPICAC’s poetry on them is just another symbol of how much the narrator has come to depend on him. And, as he says:

Before he departed this vale of tears, he did all he could to make our marriage a happy one.

Questions:

  1. Was the length of the story appropriate for you? (I can’t believe I’m asking you to critique Vonnegut, but) Did it feel too short?
  2. What impressions do you get about the future of Pat and the narrator’s marriage?
  3. This story was published in 1950, which really surprised me because of the advanced and sympathetic nature with which it treats computers. Before knowing when it was published, did you have a similar preconception?