It would seem to me that my life is incredibly and exceedingly dull. I go to school, I go to work, I study, and I watch TV, go to bed and wake up only to do the same thing all over again. It doesn’t seem noteworthy but perhaps under a new lens what appears dull, everyday routine behavior is something to truly marvel and inevitably laugh at (much like Bryson in I’m a Stranger Here Myself).
When I take a deeper look at my experiences volunteering I must say that I don’t have the laugh out loud stories or eye-roll worthy anecdotes that I have heard from my peers. Rather, it is quite normal and fits what one might expect for Wednesday morning sessions at an urban Catholic middle school. I walk into the room and my mentor teacher kindly hands me a to-do list of filing, grading, and other paperwork that I quietly work on in the back of the classroom. During this time I observe the class and once in a while participate in helping the students in the class first-hand.
However banal this may appear, there are some pretty profound assertions that could be made after volunteering at this school for almost a year. One thought that comes to mind is the portrait of the future that is evident in that room: I see my future as a teacher at the front of the class, I see the future of America in the students scrawling notes on loose-leaf, and the fact that the future is more near than we think. It really wasn’t that long ago that I was in their position, wide-eyed and eager to tackle prepositions and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. And yet every time I hear the students talk about the current pop culture icons of the middle-school-set, I am instantly reminded of how dated my favorite music/movies/etc of my middle school days are in their eyes.
Bryson masterfully tackles the mundane terrain of taxes, junk food, television programming, and cold weather with a breezy, intelligent, and distinctive style all his own. He lends a voice to the everyman and promotes the cause of the everyday with a fresh sense of simple and honest humor. He allows us to appreciate the familiar little things that make up the majority of life. Though we may not think our life to be noteworthy, there are little details that we can find that can make for a lovable column, we just have to focus our lens harder to see life aswhat it truly is: a marvel experience.
This very marvel experience is the nut Kalman so desperately tries to crack as a woman on the brink of answering the BIG questions that all of us grapple with everyday. In this class we try to find working definitions for ourselves, and though we may ponder on those questions all day it would seem that our readings suggest that experiences are what lead us to unlocking those very questions. Gilbert, Bryson and now Kalman seem to reach the conclusion that we are all a bit crazy and that we need to fully experience life and to remember to think about it before, during, and after those same experiences. It’s amazing to consider how much thoughtless time passes without reflection. Something in me, tells me that it is living life thoughtfully and being more present and cognizant in the moment will start to turn the key to unlock the seemingly unanswerable questions that Kalman presents.
In an unusual and inventive structure consisting of stream-of-consciousness type thoughts written across pages jammed with vibrant drawings; Kalman tackles heavy subject matter. In a way she is like Amy Sedaris in the unique and seemingly half-hazard construction of the piece, but her desires and her direction diverge from Sedaris. Kalman focuses on her eventual death, her family history of past (and also current) struggles, war (World War II and the current ones waged in the Middle East), as well as defining herself, and finding a point to all of this madness. In order to tackle all of this she writes her thoughts from her mind as if without a filter and then uses illustrations as an important piece to the puzzle, as her drawings are as important as her words.
The part of the book that struck me the most however was that her great conclusion came about by work of art: a poster that was meant to encourage people in the midst of World War II. The poster reads: “Keep Calm and Carry On”. As I face graduation I certainly relate to Kalman’s feelings of uncertainty and I can also relate quite deeply with this message. My mother always told me that the one thing in life you can count on is change and I hope that I take a deep breath and follow the message of the poster as I walk through this life.