Friday, June 26, 2009

The next time around

At the beginning of each semester, the exact same thoughts go through my head. And I am steadfast, determined to change. This time around, I will not wait until the last minute to get the work done, whether it is preparing an oral presentation, writing a paper or even just reading the books. Secondly, I will actually do the homework and thus in the given frame time. Finally, I will study throughout the semester so I will not turn into this impossible stress bomb during the final exams. At the beginning of each semester, as I review the last one, I get to fully understand that this time really needs to be different; because  even though this system might have allowed me to get passing grades on the final report card in the past, that additional dosage of pressure could have been avoided by not being ill-timed.

But somehow, I cannot seem to stay focused and continue with this determined, fierce attitude that I had just a few months ago. Like any New Year's resolutions, I do not hold onto those good intentions (not as long as I wished to, anyway.) It is not that I gave up on these solutions because they were too hard to handle; but sincerely, becoming lazy along the way is the most common reason for getting off track, falling back into 'bad' habits again. Furthermore, I know for a fact that many students such as myself demand the pressure of time to work more effectively. So once more, I wait until the last minute to get the work done: preparing a presentation in such a hurry, writing a 2500 word paper in one night or only reading the required books when the exam is a few days away. Perhaps luckily enough, my homework will be half-done, but never in the given frame time. Last but not least, instead of studying throughout the semester like I promised I would, I find myself putting the full turbo in the last couple of weeks. Another semester goes by and all feels repetitive, only this time (hopefully!), I simply get to deal with different subjects and have other exams to take. I do despise this way of studying, as I am well aware of the repercussions. But it often remains a cycle, and God knows I have no one else to blame but myself.

All through our life, every year, every semester, and every day -- even more so when we consider it a new beginning (New Year, birthdays, moving into a new era...) -- we start off with great intentions in particular when we want to heal some mistakes, in (desperate) need of making changes. The next time around, we know better. This statement not only affects life at University like stated above, but after careful consideration, we are filled with resolutions in so many various areas in life: we know better influences the smallest detail as well as all the major decisions we make. The next time around, we know better when it comes to love and relationships: "I will not make the same mistakes again. It will be different with the next man/woman." We know better when the lifestyle we have adopted does not do us any good: "It is a new year, I need to eat more healthy or do sports regularly." The next time around, we know better since we drank one too many glasses on that last night-out: "I will never drink as much. That hangover was definitely not worth it."

Without doubt, some of us have kept our resolutions like we promised. Students got more serious, smokers stopped smoking and many found true love after numerous failed relationships. But once again, like many of those resolutions we take at the start of the semester, it is more common that the follow-through we were opting for might not follow through (never entirely, anyway.) All feels repetitive, and it remains a cycle: there are experiences, journeys and especially results that could have been avoided because we got our lesson, dealt with our mistakes. This time around, were we not supposed to know better? There are men/women we should stay away from; yet we still manage to follow in the same footsteps, getting involved with the 'wrong' person again. There is food we should stay away from but we still manage to bend our rules again (and again.) Once more, we should have left out that last glass of champagne but thinking we can still handle it, we manage to fall in the same hole again.

This is the next time around, and we know better. So why is it so common to still get off track? And God knows that, this time around, we have no one else to blame but ourselves.

We say we learn from our mistakes and we become a little wiser every time we stumble and fall. But, in all honesty, it is often more an easy thing to say that an actual, always realizable statement. It is neither pessimism nor a lack of faith in human kind, and of course it is not insinuated that people cannot ever change. But even though breaking the pattern is not impossible, I believe it is not stretched out enough just how very hard of a task it is: whether we want to improve the smallest detail in our lives or get major changes done. "Rising again after the fall" is more than a favorite quote. It is more than opening another fortune cookie at the Chinese restaurant. It is more than reading the horoscope. We can only consider change a real change when we are able to successfully apply the lesson this time around...

Talking about going the distance.

Immediately, I came to the conclusion that above everything, more than managing to keep those resolutions, we need to give ourselves a little more credit when it comes to the things we want to change, and are willing to fight for. I think the most important lesson of all -- that we often forget to fully grasp -- is to be reasonable and take likely, actually realizable resolutions. It is understandable to aim high and want a 360 degrees turn in no time. Yet it is a reality that we do not reform a lifestyle in just a few months, we do not attain our dream body in only a week and we can always learn from (and about) love. Furthermore, one of the reasons why we cannot hold onto our resolutions long enough is because it is quite difficult to stay on the right path when we do not get positive responses right away. So we should first distinguish our strengths as well as our weaknesses. It also helps a whole lot to have someone (or more) believe in us, especially when we fail to believe in ourselves. And the next time (hopefully!), we'll act a little wiser. At the end, we are human after all, and it is normal to fall even when this time around, we were supposed to know better.Having setbacks is all part of the process. At times, we are too hard on ourselves and only look at the big picture, when on the contrary: we should perceive the small changes that will lead to the big picture. Eventually. We'll get it right sooner or later. A combination of hard work and perseverance is what makes change possible. After all, "Rome was not built in one day."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Real love knows. True friends know.
Forgiveness is forgiving the unforgivable.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On "The Lady's Dressing Room"

“The Lady’s Dressing Room”, written by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in 1739, is a poem which describes the character of Strephon venturing through the dressing room of ‘lady’ Celia. Finding the room without Celia or her employee Betty, Strephon grabs the opportunity to inspect the lady’s private space. The poetic speaker looks through the eyes of his protagonist Strephon and conducts a meticulous list of his findings. The representations of Celia’s dressing room, as well as her characteristics, are toned with irony throughout the text. In fact, the title of the poem itself already suggests a touch of irony, as the vivid descriptions of Celia’s untidy room and habits do not quite match the features of a classic and well-mannered ‘lady’. Therefore, the poem can be understood as a satire, or even a parody compared to the glorification of women in other traditional literary genres, such as in the blason. The text, with its predominant use of various styles of irony, becomes a provocative mockery: the woman is turned into a ridiculous figure. The fact that a lady’s dressing room should remain a private matter which no men – especially an admirer – should ever enter, gives the poem a controversial intonation.

First of all, it is important to “imagine the speaker’s tone of voice." We shall recognize that verbal irony (as one of the different types of irony) is frequently used in “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. This kind of irony “relies on a perceived disparity between what someone says and what they mean." The poetic speaker tends towards this particular figurative language in order to reveal the delusion of a woman’s proper demeanors. In other words, the speaker, through Strephon’s perspective, manages to convince the reader that a ‘lady’ has got a lot of secrets as soon as she is behind closed doors. A look into Celia’s private sphere defines the distinct difference between the image she gives in ‘public’ and her being in the dressing room. To illustrate this statement, we can take the opening line of the poem: “Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)”(1). The poetic speaker scoffs at the idea that a woman such as Celia takes an eternity to prepare in dressing. Furthermore, the speaker’s tone suggests this behavior as being an unnatural and ridiculous phenomenon. Of course, if Celia were approached in another context, let us say in a situation where she already appears ‘sweet and cleanly’ (18), the time of preparation for her ‘beautiful self’ should neither be mentioned nor an issue. In addition, using a hyperbole, which is “a deliberate exaggeration used for effect”, emphasizes the absurdity of the amount of time a woman spends in her dressing room.

The punctuation also has a certain relevance in order to produce a greater effect. Verbal irony in the text cannot only be found as structured in brackets such as stated above, but the fact that a ‘mocking’ tone also comes in the form of a question accentuates the ridicule of the situation. Another example of such irony occurs as the poetic speaker asks,

“The stockings why should I expose,
Stained with the marks of stinking toes,
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?” (51-54)

The speaker assumes that she is wearing the same clothes for a certain amount of time: her stockings are then ‘stained with the marks of stinking toes’, her coifs become ‘greasy’ and the pinners are ‘reeking’. ‘No object’ in the dressing room gets past Strephon (47), yet isn’t it ironic that the speaker appears to stress out the why should I expose in his question? In effect, the speaker successfully gets his point through using this figure of speech rather than making a direct statement: these particular details exposed underline the intonation of the text and imply the disturbing lifestyle of ‘lady’ Celia. The insight into the dressing room damages the myth of a lovely – and supposedly ‘cleanly’ – woman. The speaker is judgmental: the term ‘goddess’ is a misconception as the ‘survey’ (7) of Celia’s habits leads to unpleasant surprises. The poetic speaker suggests a clearer – yet deceptive and offensive – image of Celia.

“But swears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.” (15-18)

Structural irony is “produced when a speaker […] says something with sincerity but which is made ironic by the situation […]" This style of irony is one of the major factors, which enable the speaker to put forward the charade of Celia’s character. Whilst the speaker could have simply continued making an excruciating description of her habits, the use of structural irony emphasizes the distinction between the ‘Celia’ revealed by Strephon and the ‘Celia’ who is admired by men. This is significant as the poetic speaker opposes the terms ‘haughty’ (2), ‘careless wench‘ (71 and 108) and ‘giant’ (62) in describing Strephon’s Celia, to the characterizations: ‘goddess’ (3 and 119), ‘in her glory’ (135), “virtues” (58) and ‘queen of love’ (131). The speaker is honest by accentuating the positive terms that define Celia, but the fact that it is in a context where only her excruciating deeds are described makes the irony even more impressive. The ‘glorified’ Celia is destroyed. Men, who would think of her as a ‘goddess’, should not indulge themselves to stay at her ‘mercy’. The inventory of her private sphere is provocative, as the speaker perpetually wants to smear the image of Celia.

Finally, dramatic irony is another style of irony that is used in order to dramatize Strephon’s disgust during his ‘inventory’. Dramatic irony is defined as the “discrepancy between what a character believes about his or her actions and what the the play (in this case the poem, my emphasis) demonstrates about them.” The last part of the inventory describes the discovery of the ‘chest’: the poetic speaker even suggests that Strephon continues the investigation. Immediately, the speaker not only offers the reader another episode of dreadful representations of Celia’s manners; but the reader can imagine, even before Strephon opens the chest, that the following description of the survey will be worse than the liter, the comb, the towels and so forth. The poetic speakers questions:

“Why Strephon will you tell the rest?
And must you needs to describe the chest?” (69-70)

The terms must you needs mark the doubts on whether the definition of the ‘chest’ is necessary, but the tone indicates the ridicule of the following ‘investigation’. It is evident that the speaker is keen on revealing Strephon’s findings, which makes the irony of the situation even more poignant. Furthermore, the metaphor of the ‘chest’, which is compared to ‘Pandora’s box’ (83), is the highlight of this poem. Celia’s excrement, first juxtaposed to ‘human evils’ (86) and then followed by the explanation of the ‘meat’ (99-106), makes the poem an exquisite satire, which is “a mode of writing that exposes the failings of individuals […] to ridicule."

After reviewing the different styles of irony in the text, “The Lady’s Dressing Room” proves to be a successful satire i.e. the woman is magnificently mocked. The poem offers quite an offensive inclination towards women. It is relevant to mention that Celia’s appearance in the dressing room is obviously different compared to the image she ought to share in ‘public’. The fact that Strephon intrudes into Celia’s dressing room is already a break of trust. In addition, the speaker emphasizes the elements of her face and body parts; and finally gives a horrifying representation of her excrement. In effect, the ‘mocking’ attitude towards women is provocative. We can argue the reason behind this mockery: does Strephon represent an admirer who was rejected by Celia, and who now seeks revenge in exposing her? Are men curious to discover women in their private sphere? Is showing the ‘human’ yet unpleasant side of a ‘lady’ supposed to ridicule the adoration of women? The reader finally senses the misogynous tone – demonstrated with the various ironies – in the text, which supports the “hatred of women." Indeed, “‘The Lady’s dressing room’ is understandably regarded as one of the most notorious sites of anti-feminist animus, no less so of being, […] in a long literary tradition of obscene and scatological satire against women.”


I wrote this critical essay on Jonathan Swift's poem "The Lady's Dressing Room" for my Textual Analysis class. To read the poem, please click on the following link:

Monday, June 1, 2009

"You had me at hello"

Amazingly, there can be sweet good-byes, even if there aren't any smooth tomorrows.