Friday, March 8, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #5

#5: "While we come and go in our native land, we imagine that we are indifferent to these streets, that these windows, roofs, and doors mean nothing to us, that these walls are strangers to us, that these trees are like any other trees, that these houses we never enter are of no use to us, that the pavement where we walk is no more than stone blocks.  Later, when we are no longer there, we find that those streets are very dear to us, that we miss the roofs, windows, and doors, that the walls are essential to us, that the trees are beloved, that every day we did enter those houses we never entered, and that we have left something of our affections, our life, and our heart on those paving stones."

Where: Pages 446-447.

What's Happening: Jean Valjean, knowing that he is being pursued by Javert, has taken Cosette and left the secluded garret, and is "threading" through the streets of Paris, so as not to be followed.  Hugo, who was away from Paris in exile, takes this opportunity to describe the once familiar streets.

What I Learned: This was another epiphany moment (and I am extremely grateful to Victor Hugo for providing me with so many of these).  I feel like it is completely true that in the course of everyday life, we become so familiar and comfortable with our surroundings that we don't think twice about least not until we're far away from those places.  I know that one day, when I move out of my family's house to be on my own, I will vividly miss and remember things that I don't really think twice about now.  I'll miss how tiny our little wiener dog looks when he's waddling through the grass.  I'll affectionately think of the big ole' tree a few feet away that I was always afraid would fall on the house during a storm.  I'll remember how silly I thought the front door was because it was painted red and I'll rejoice on the days when I can walk through that red door once again.  The shapes of the windows, the placements of the door frames, the impact of listening to fifty Bruce Springsteen songs in "The Pink Room" (the sitting room that is now green), where the cereal was kept...Victor Hugo describes his version of these things in nineteenth century Paris perfectly.  There is nothing quite like nostalgia, especially when nostalgia is linked to places.  And I love, love, love the idea of “we did enter those houses we never entered.”  It makes me think that those places became so familiar that we entered them in our minds.  I believe the bottom line here is that we leave a bit of ourselves everywhere that we go, but we also take a bit of those places with us on our journeys into the future.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

...I Should Feel Free To Jam In Empty Supermarkets.

I am one of those people.

You know, those people.  The intensely shy, frustratingly self-aware, prone to the ultimate of awkward situations, think-very-carefully-before-you-act-and-speak, look behind your shoulder...those kind of people.

But such is life, right?

Well, I didn't realize what a problem this was...well, I lie, because I do know what a problem this is...but I didn't realize recently what a problem this had become until I encountered an interesting situation last night. 

I don't sing in front of people.  I don't dance in front of people.  I'm one of those people who can't seem to let out musical energy in front of people for fear of looking stupid.  This is entirely normal, there are plenty of those people out there.  But here is the kicker: I couldn't even dance or sing in the middle of a deserted aisle in the center of an almost empty grocery store last night.

It was around 10 p.m, not a customer in the store, and I was performing the least-exciting task ever: mopping the floor.  Journey's "I'll Be Alright Without You" came on over the speakers, a song I hadn't heard at work before, and I was almost instantly transformed.  The sixteen year-old me - the one who has become buried by adult issues,  college, and time - instantly emerged, threatening to come out of my mouth by way of the lyrics.  I held the mop tightly, aware that my co-worker was only feet away, and waited for an opportunity when I could celebrate this song that I hadn't heard in literally years.

I had my opportunity when I went to dump the mop.  I walked through an empty aisle with the mop, heading to the back room, but alas, I had my excuse - the mop would be a burden, you cannot possibly air guitar with a mop in your hand, you cannot sing a power ballad and take yourself seriously if you are holding a mop.  I dumped the mop and headed back to the empty aisle.

Oh, perfect opportunity! My arms and legs tingled, I felt a weight in my throat (the song obviously trying to get out), and I kept thinking, this is my chance to jam to Journey at work!  Nobody was there to look, there were no cameras in that section of the store, the jars of Skippy peanut butter would not judge me, the boxes of Cheerios would not tell anyone, the pancake mix would never was my moment to be sixteen again, to recapture a part of who I am, to break free, to be something that was not boring or anxious...

I reached the end of the aisle without uttering a note, without opening my mouth, without celebrating, and went back to work.  I could not even sing or dance in an empty supermarket.

This was my epiphany, if you will.  I deeply admire people who burst into song in random moments, but I couldn't admire myself enough to belt out the chorus of a Journey song in front of nobody.  I respect people who don't care what people think of them, but I couldn't respect myself enough to not care what the empty air thought.  I love people who have fun, but I couldn't love myself enough to have a twenty-second, uplifting moment.  I could have chosen character, I chose fatigue.

It may sound a bit harsh, but it's true.  Do I want to tell any potential, future children of mine that I used to drag myself through supermarket aisles at ten o'clock at night, trying not to fall down, or do I want to tell them I danced and sang the length of an aisle every Tuesday night and was a better person because of it?

My pledge now is this: next time I encounter an empty aisle and a Journey song, I will take advantage of it.  And who knows, maybe one day I'll advance to choosing a crowded aisle.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms #4

#4: "Nothing is so charming as the ruddy tints that happiness can shed around a garret room.  In the course of our lives, we have all had our rosy garret."

Where: Page 437.

What's Happening: Jean Valjean has just rescued Cosette from the
Thénardiers and has taken her to live in a very secluded spot.  They are living in a garret (tiny top floor room or attic room) and their father-daughter bond begins to develop and they grow to love each other.

What I Learned: I was instantly drawn to this phrase with what felt like some sort of magnetic force.  The message here is simple: you don't need to be living in a fancy mansion(although fancy mansions are one of my favorite things ever) or on some tropical island or in a glamorous, rich city to be happy. The garret where Cosette is living with Jean Valjean is rundown, poor, and definitely not pretty, but it is pretty to her because it is her safe-house from the awful Thénardiers, the dwelling of her savior, and the beginning of a new life for her. If you are truly happy, wherever you are dwelling in life will be enough for you and will hold very fond memories. and hence, seem rosy and wonderful.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #3

#3: "Nobody walks alone at night in the forest without trembling.  Darkness and trees, two formidable depths - a chimeric reality appears in the indistinct distance.  An outline of the Inconceivable emerges a few steps away with a special clarity.  You see floating in space or in your brain something strangely vague and unseizable like the dreams of sleeping flowers.  There are fierce shapes on the horizon.  You breath in the odors of the great black void.  You are afraid and are tempted to look behind you.  The socket of night, the haggard look of everything, taciturn profiles that fade away as you advance, obscure dishevelments, angry clumps, livid pools, the gloomy reflected in the funereal, the sepulchral immensity of silence, the possible unknown beings, swaying of mysterious branches, frightful torsos of the trees, long wisps of shivering grass - you are defenseless against all of it...Forests are apocalypses..."

Where: Page 388-389

What's Happening: The young Cosette has been sent out in the night by the nasty Thénardiess to fetch a bucket of water from the well in the woods.  She is very afraid and her surroundings are being described to us.

What I Learned: First and foremost, this entire paragraph is stunning.  If this passage doesn't paint a vivid and animated picture, then I don't know what does!  It is simply so much fun to read this beautifully crafted paragraph.  And second, it's also very true.  Thank you, Victor Hugo, for writing down in extreme detail exactly why Nicole Knapp does not go into forests at night.  I had originally thought that I didn't venture outside at night for fear of either being eaten by bears or abducted by creepers, but now that I've read this passage and thought of it...there is something very strange about the forest at night.  While I do think the forest at night is mysteriously beautiful, I also think that it can be the stuff that nightmares are made of, if we let it.  Dangers - whether real or imagined - follow you as you step through the endless trees and the endless darkness.  And getting back to the language - the way this is written is just so cool.  The dreams of sleeping flowers, frightful torsos of the trees, forests are apocalypses...these phrases speak for themselves and emit a literary power of their very own.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Victor Hugo-isms: #2

#2: "If you wish to understand what Revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to understand what Progress is, call it Tomorrow."

Where: Page 349.

What's Happening: I've heard people who have read Les Misérables say that Victor Hugo often goes off on long tangents on specific subjects and while that is true, these tangents are important to the story.  This quote appears in one of those "tangents," when Hugo is recounting the Battle of Waterloo.  It is in a chapter titled "Should We Approve of Waterloo?" which goes into detail about revolution and its role in Waterloo.

What I Learned: It took a tad bit of thinking for me to grasp this one, but it does make perfect sense.  Why does one start a revolution?  Because they want something to change and if something is changing successfully, it is progress.  And progress doesn't happen overnight.  The progress that one seeks isn't necessarily found in the past and it might not even be found in the present, but I believe it can be found Tomorrow.  Change takes time and there are many tomorrows to witness progress developing.  I also link this quote to the musical's wonderful last line: "Tomorrow comes!"  There is hope in the future, in change, in tomorrow!  Revolution is an important part of the story of Les Misérables and so is the idea of tomorrow.