I’ve recently acquired a 1977 SchwinnLe Tour II from a radical dude in the Gables – and I couldn’t be happier.
There is something about ten-speeds from the Americanbike boom of the 70s and 80s that I just love. The perfectly horizontal top tubes, sleek lines and surprisingly light weight of these steel frames; the gumwall tires and non-indexed stem shifters that force you to feel the bike in order to shift properly … all of it makes for a fun and challenging ride that feel just as modern today as it likely did forty years ago.
This particular model, made in Japan, has a beautiful “pearlescent orange” finish and 27″ wheels with a ten-speed derailleur drivetrain. More features include:
There’s probably more features I’m missing, but I can definitely tell you that riding this bike is a thrill. It was part of Schwinn’s Xtra-Lite series, and while it doesn’t hold a candle to today’s feather-light carbon frames, it certainly feels stiff and durable whilst being friendly to carry up the stairs.
Beyond that, the two courses I learned a lot from this semester have truly left an impression on me: Intro to C++ Programming and Fundamentals of Music Theory. It was cool to try my hand at subjects that I’d never really involved myself in before, thereby challenging the feeling I often get after a school year or a semester passes: what did I learn that was really new?
Well, I certainly didn’t have the slightest clue as to how to read sheet music or program a text-based game before this semester, and now I do.
The semester also reinforced my idea that college is supposed to be a – amongst other things – a breeding ground for new experiences that will take me out of my comfort zone. I’m already used to classes where the norm is to listen to a lecture, engage in philosophical discussion and then write an essay about it all; therefore, it was a change of pace to engage in courses with a larger emphasis on hands-on activities, such as the labs in C++ Programming and the rhythm dictations in Music Theory.
The next two semesters will consist solely of prerequisite courses
such as Biology, Sociology and others.
Now it’s time to kick back and soak up the Miami sun!
I wrote this essay for my Leadership class, as one of the final assignments of the course. In it, I talk about my reconciliation with the idea of pursuing journalism as a career.
My passion for the art of journalism was strengthened during my first year in college, a passion that I thought I’d lost during my year off high school.
Many years ago, through my active participation in my high school’s TV Production Magnet program, I took a liking to the notion of pursuing journalism as a career. I took joy in the workflow of identifying a story worth telling, combining all the resources necessary to tell the story, and finally publishing it for its intended audience.
My being in an immigration status limbo that almost forced me to return to my home country of Argentina to keep studying didn’t send me back home but did force me to take a year off. During this time, I tried to keep myself motivated by sitting in on junior- and graduate-level mass communication classes at Florida International University such as “The History of Journalism” and a special topics class on news literacy, but this charade only lasted so long before I ceased keeping up with the assignments.
My work with Teenlink, a youth-oriented publication that’s delivered on a regular basis to Broward County schools, was also falling by the wayside. For instance, I volunteered to cover the 2013 Book Fair, only to leave unfinished all five of the author profiles I said I would do.
I thought I’d fallen out of love with the craft, but I realized that this lack of motivation was part of a larger mental response against not being in college yet. It was irksome to be sitting in on college classes and working on projects that, despite being in accordance with my passion, were not really helping me make concrete academic or professional progress.
Luckily, my experience writing news articles for The Reporter student newspaper at Miami Dade College this semester has rekindled a fire that I thought I’d lost forever.
With The Reporter being a newspaper as opposed to a television channel, I’ve gotten the chance to explore a kind of journalism that I’m not used to working in. Often times, it’s easier than the multimedia reporting I used to do in high school: I can do interviews over e-mail or phone and not have to worry about lighting, sound quality and video equipment. But on the flip side, it’s harder because of the higher level of writing skill required. In several situations, my editor has alerted me to perspectives on interviewees’ testimonies and to questions about subject matters that I would’ve never thought of.
Though the game is slightly different, The Reporter has nonetheless gotten me fired up about journalism again. Newly, I get rushes that I haven’t felt in so long. Leaving voicemails, requesting interviews, scrubbing through the recordings of telephone interviews, and synthesizing an array of resources into a 500 word article now again feel like activities worth their weight in gold.
In “Good Country People”, Flannery O’Connor paints a very flawed protagonist, Hulga, whose societal perceptions are thwarted by an odd and sullying experience involving a devious Bible salesman. In so doing, she provokes the reader to question the vitality of religion, social stereotypes and human self-defense mechanisms.
Several story elements serve as the pretext for this experience. One of them is the description of Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell. Mrs. Hopewell is zealously accepting and appreciative of good country people, the moniker by which she refers to help that she’s hired for field work over time: “in the Freemans [Mrs. Hopewell] had good country people and … in this day and age, [if] you get good country people, you had better hold on to them.” The divide between Mrs. Hopewell’s and Mrs. Freeman’s socioeconomic status, which is never explicitly defined but restlessly hinted at by the use of this stereotyping term, suggests that Mrs. Hopewell seeks solace in applauding good country people as if it were a way of compensating for her life’s shortcomings, such as how her daughter Joy has turned out.
Hulga, whose leg was shot off at a young age in a hunting accident and who suffers from a heart condition that doctors say might allow her to “see forty-five [years of age]”, is an Ph.D.-educated individual who spends much time reading and little time in the company of others. She has a crass and impolite manner that makes her appear uglier than her “bloated, rude, and squint-eyed” exterior already does: “Mrs. Hopewell would look at her … and would think that if she would only keep herself up a little, she wouldn’t be so bad looking”. Though she can walk without making a noise from her prosthetic, wooden leg, “she made it – Mrs. Hopewell was certain – because it was ugly-sounding”. Her own legal change of name, from Joy to Hulga, was motivated “purely on the basis of its ugly sound” and is considered by Hulga to be “her highest creative act”. All these displays of intentional repulsion suggest that a cognitive dissonance is going on within Hulga: she just can’t look past her physical shortcomings and attempt to redeem herself. She’s stuck in a self-destructive rut. The clothes she wears – “a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it” – even point to a degree of mental regression. “She was brilliant but she didn’t have a grain of sense.”
Mrs. Freeman’s character serves the purpose of testing Hulga’s intentionally repugnant resolve. When she first began calling Joy “Hulga”, “[Mrs. Freeman’s] relish for using the name only irritated [Hulga]”. Hulga “would scowl and redden as if her privacy had been intruded upon.” Someone who legally changes their name would expectedly be happy with their new name, but Hulga’s flustered response towards Mrs. Freeman addressing her by it suggests that the name change was done to as a cause of her self-destructive rut, one that she doesn’t admit to herself: “It was as if Mrs. Freeman’s beady steel-pointed eyes had penetrated far enough behind [Hulga’s] face to reach some secret fact.” It’s no secret; rather, it’s a truth that Hulga tries to repel.
Atop Hulga’s rut is a relationship with rational philosophy that ends up throwing her for a loop in the end. “She said such strange things”, writes O’Connor. In one instance, at the dinner table, Hulga makes a reference to the French rational philosopher Nicolas Malebranche, whose theory of occasionalism suggested that every creature in this world was likely an occasion for divine activity. Hulga proclaims that Malebranche was right in saying, “we are not our own light”. In one of his texts, Malebranche argues that the nature of human minds being is unclear and can’t be looked into by human beings themselves. The movement of an arm, for example, is not a cooperation between the mind and the body. Rather, it occurs purely by the occasion of moving the arm, wherein the agent that causes the occasion is God. In the real world, the concept of cause and effect does not exist. Rather, God causes one event and then causes another, independently. Mrs. Hopewell labels Hulga as “an atheist [that] wouldn’t let me keep the Bible in the parlor”. Interestingly, through her reference to Malebranche, it’s suggested that she believes in and agrees with Malebranche’s philosophy, whose objective was to demonstrate the ubiquity of God in the human world. This juxtaposition serves O’Connor’s later perversion of religion as well as her provocation of the reader to question it.
Through the Malebranche lens, the Bible salesman becomes an agent of God. His ability to woo Hulga into accompanying him for a “picnic” and into her having thoughts of seducing him in a barn does not, on a logical level, make sense given Hulga’s outward rudeness and general displeasure. After all, “she looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”
When seen through the lens of Malebranche, though, Hulga’s surrender to the advances of the effervescent Bible salesman – and in fact his very appearance in Hulga’s life – is her surrender to God. When the salesman asks for her age, a degree of Hulga’s femininity and psychological irresolution – one that, given her track record, could have only been brought on by God himself – is exposed when she replies, “seventeen”. She even dolls up prior to their meeting by putting on Vapex. These acts, which don’t fit with her personality, are too rash to be explained by mere logic. Therefore, it must be the influence of God acting upon her.
On the surface, as the Bible salesman kisses her and then exacts a confession of her love for him, forces such as Hulga’s lack of sexual experience and her desire to feel superior and in control can be said to be at work. She quietly revels in his “look of admiration … as if the fantastic animal at the zoo had put its paw through the bars and given him a loving poke.” When he’s pleading for her to say she loves him, Hulga looks at him “almost tenderly” and says “You poor baby … It’s just as well you don’t understand.” Prior to this, she describes herself as “one of those people who see through to nothing”, in an attempt to vitiate the significance and very purpose of the salesman’s request and therefore appear mysteriously as the wiser of the two. Towards the end, “[she’d] seduced him without even making up her mind to try.”
All this is an act of God that’s caused Hulga to think about God and about her physical and emotional weakness. Of course, O’Connor makes the Christian salesman a farce, one that only pretends to be engaged in spreading the word of God in order to feed his sick or his capitalistic desire to collect prosthetic body parts. O’Connor, through her plot twist, makes perverse Hulga’s expectation that the boy is nothing but “good country people” and that Christians are supposed to be good people. The salesman one-ups Hulga’s obnoxious atheism and disbelief in everything, telling her that he’s been believing in nothing since the day he was born. He mimics Mrs. Freeman in this regard, because she’s seen through to Hulga’s irresolute soul. She only acts the way she does because she wants to either rationalize or mask the ills in her life, namely her amputated leg. It’s ironic, sad and darkly comedic when the salesman, prior to their exchange in the barn, tells Hulga that God must really take care of her. If the salesman is God, then God doesn’t take care of Hulga at all – he just steals her wooden leg and leaves her alone, immobile and in despair.
O’Connor’s purpose in writing the story, then, is to describe different viewpoints about religion, intellect and society; intersect the viewpoints, and get the reader to question them all. What really are “good country people”? Is being atheist a sound idea? Does education really help someone realize their full potential? Why do some people seem to be stuck in their childhood years in some way? In the broadest terms, O’Connor’s story is a wide-reaching exposé about human nature.