Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“No Eat! No Grow! Shout!

From “salad days” to “meat walls”, M.T. Anderson serves up a four-course meal that is rich with savory and simply irresistible consumerism and corporate power with a dash of data mining and environmental decay.  Feed is set in a near-futuristic dystopian society that is completely immersed in the internet and consumer activities controlled by the Corporations.  This four-part novel concludes with the expected bittersweet decadent dessert of death, dying that turns sour upon receipt of the check.  Who or what is the “Feed”?  An analysis of a singular passage found in part three of this scrumptious novel will answer this question and the questions of who is feeding whom, why, and at what cost?
Part 3, “utopia”, ends with the chapter entitled, “our duty to the party”.  After Violet and Titus have been at the party for a while, several of Titus’s friends decide to play a game of spin the bottle.  After several spins, it was Marty’s turn.  Marty’s spin ends on Violet.  Marty’s advances towards Violet are unwanted and she states “Stop it all.”  Marty is insistent.  Violet begins her monologue with “Can I tell you what I see?” and it ends with “Look at us!  You don’t have the feed!  You are feed!  You’re feed!  You’re being eaten!  You’re raised for food!  Look at what you’ve made yourselves!”  At this moment, I realized that the title Feed was chosen for more than the obvious definition:  a device or conduit for supplying something.  At some level,  it was food for cattle or livestock.  And then I began to ask myself, “Who is being fed?  What was the purpose of the feeding or the Feed?”
When the story began, I accepted that the feed was merely a connection to an extensive internet database that provided access to news, entertainment, and shopping.  These activities occur in our society today.  We enjoy the convenience and availability of products and services on a daily basis.  The ability to connect immediately with a friend through “m-chatting” was exciting to me.  It seemed so much easier than texting on my cell phone or sending a message through Messenger.  The feed in my mind was one dimensional.  The feed was designed for the consumer’s convenience.  Everything is available at the moment it is thought.
As I continued to read, the real relationship began to unfold.  I could see that the feed was the vehicle for corporations to obtain information from the user.  The feed made it possible for the corporations to mine for information.  This mining made it possible for the corporations to tailor-fit advertisements and promotions for the individual.  This was successful and the result was an increase in profits.  The relationship was no longer one dimensional.  The feed was a two-way process.  The person searches for information, seeks out entertainment, or purchases goods.  And the corporations obtain information by accessing search patterns, conversations with others, what was dreamt, etc.  The corporations were taking what they wanted.  Pulling what they needed to continue to grow and become more powerful.
In my head, red lights began flashing and loud bullhorns began going off.  I began to reflect on the relationship between the farmer and the steer.  The farmer feeds his cattle every day to provide nourishment.  He may have researched various feed types to find the best so that his herd is strong and healthy.  The ranch hands take care of every need to ensure that the livestock is in top, premium condition.  Cattle are expensive to raise and cattle ranches exist for one purpose: to slaughter, butcher and to sell.  Who doesn’t like a tender, juicy steak now and then?  So, who is the cow and who is the farmer in the novel Feed?  Violet reveals this symbiotic relationship before she collapses:  “Look at us!  You don’t have the feed!  You are feed!  You’re feed!  You’re being eaten!  You’re raised for food!  Look at what you’ve made yourselves!”
Returning to the relationship between the farmer and the cow we can examine another aspect of this relationship by asking the question:  What happens to an animal that is sick or dying?  Well, they are put down.  It is not cost-effective to get medical assistance from a veterinarian when there are a thousand other heads that are completely healthy. The meat from the sick animal is no longer the established premium quality expected by the meat-loving consumer.  In the novel, we learn of Violet’s deteriorating condition due to her damaged implant and malfunctioning connection.  She and her father petition for assistance to get her feed repaired and operating at optimal levels.  The corporations deny assistance because she is no longer a viable source of information.  The repairs would not be cost-effective and not worth the time, energy, or resources.  Like the unhealthy cow, Violet is “put down”.  Her passing is gradual and painful.  She is discarded by the system because she no longer holds value.
When my youngest sister was a toddler, I began reading her various books written by Maurice Sendak.  One of her favorites included There Must Be More to Life Than Having Everything, or Higglety, Pigglety, Pop!  This toddler-size novel shares a story about Jenny, the Dog, who laments, “There must be more to life than having everything”. In desperation, she takes off into the world to gain experience.  She becomes a nanny to Baby.  As the nanny, Jenny makes multiple attempts to feed Baby who screams “No Eat!  No Grow!  Shout!”  
In the world created by M.T. Anderson, we witness the effects of having everything.  There isn’t much challenge to life except to decide what to purchase next, even if it is something that we already have twenty of.  Mindless purchases and entertainment augmented by environmental disasters and civil unrest are the frame-work.  As I read the final chapters of the book that lead up to the inevitable end, I mourned the loss of Violet, who was a victim of a deeply entrenched, commercial society that no longer valued those things that we may consider most precious.  I wanted to scream and yell at the corporations for being so evil that life had no value.  I wondered, if Violet could scream one more time would her message be “No Eat!  No Grow!  Shout!”  The simple exclamation of a baby that didn’t want to be controlled or told what to do, as is the nature of all children.  Would her message to stop feeding the monster, so that it wouldn’t grow, be heard?  Would her shout of desperation ring out a catalyst for change?  M.T. Anderson provided an exaggerated possibility of our future.  A future that we can conceive and understand.  I echo Jenny’s lament:  “There must be more to life than having everything.”  Indeed there is more.  Life.  What in this world is worth the cost of a single life?  What is the price tag you would put on your own life?  We are feed that has been raised to nourish and fatten the pocketbooks of corporations.  The cycle of consumerism is the conduit. The cost: the exploitation of natural resources and people.  The ultimate cost: life.

Works Cited
Anderson, M.T., Feed, pages 197 - 203
Sendak, Maurice, There Must be More to Life Than Having Everything



Friday, July 4, 2014

INDEPENDENCE

 
From days in memoriam to days of celebration Americans gather and unite.  Patriotism is a deep root that began with the Independence of the United States.  From composers like Francis Scott Key to poets like Maya Angelou who have given voice to the heart of Americans everywhere we celebrate.
 
Standing on the West Front of the Capital; Maya Angelou became the first African-American and first woman inaugural poet when she read "On the Pulse of Morning."  A poem she wrote for the new president, Bill Clinton.  The five-minute reading was only the second time a poet has read at a presidential inauguration.
 
"History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again."
 
Maya Angelou would later say that the poem was meant to be both inspirational and realistic, to touch upon some of the United States' dark past and her hope for the future.  In the five-minute reading, Maya Angelou preached inclusion and concluded with an uplifting message that reflected Clinton's inaugural address and his vision for the presidency.
 
"Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning."
 
 
There are still living who remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  There are others who still hope for the return of a loved one from the Vietnam War.  There are soldiers who stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Many of us witnessed silently the fall of the Twin Towers.  We cried out in deep sorrow at the loss of so many lives on that dreadful September morning.
 
Yet, we found comfort in a stranger's arms.  We became united as a country.  We found common ground with our neighbor.  And we even forgave our enemy.
 
Presidential Candidates and Miss America Contestants alike have been interviewed to ascertain where they stand on various political issues, human atrocities and sometimes their personal opinions on any given topic.  Their answers will determine whether they will be the best representative of the American people.  One of the most important questions we can ask any human being living in the United States is:
 
"Why are you proud to be an American?"
 
I am proud to be an American for so many reasons.  Mostly, because of the freedoms we share and the opportunities that are abundant in this land.  I am grateful for the wisdom of our fore fathers in declaring independence and establishing what it means to live in America.  This land is free and will never be subject to bondage.  I am grateful for the many lives that have ensured that one fact. 
 
Please join me in responding to that very important question:
 
Why are you proud to be an American?
 
 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

WRITING AGAIN

Wanted to share the beginning of a new story.  Tell me what you think:
 
CHASING DREAMS
 
In the early morning my mind continued to play back the feelings and emotions from the dreams of my twilight sleep.  I rolled over onto my side and my eyes rested on the shadowy figure of my husband of 20 years.  Even in the dark I could make out the details of his face.  Black hair crowning his head; framing his lips and sheltering his eyes.  The Spanish nose and the strong French jaw.  Light crept in through the slats of the blinds casting light across the covers draped over his broad muscular shoulders. 
I could not recall the image of the man in my dreams.
I lay in silence on the brink of tears wondering if I was really dreaming or if my mind was bringing back memories of another lifetime.  I remember gazing into his eyes and pleading with him to stay.  Where was he going?  There was mystery in his responses.
Later we were traveling with many others, all seemed to understand the reason for his parting.  I struggled, hoping and wishing for more time with him.  His compassion and patience toward me permitted more time.  As the time drew nearer to his departure my chest tightened with anxiety and despair.
I woke with a start with my arms wrapped around the pillow resting on my chest.  I could hear my husband breathing steadily and slowly.  The rhythm of his breath like the ebb and flow of the sea.  Slowly drifting back into twilight sleep my mind grasped at the longing in my heart.  He was tall with thick chestnut colored hair.  His eyes were kind and penetrating.  The cadence of his voice soothing.  His fingers resting gently on my hand, offering some comfort.  The loss growing stronger and stronger.
I began matching names of men I have known throughout my life to the quickly fading image of the man in my dreams.  No name seemed to be quite right.  Desperation set in.  I could not lose him forever.  Why was he so important to me? 
Tingling in my left arm woke me again.  I had rolled over onto my arm during my emotional struggle with the pillow.  My heart full of emotion.  Why was I so sad?  Why did this feel like a memory and not a dream?  Victor rolled over asking me if I wanted to sleep with him.  Snuggling and comfort would have been preferable to this separation that I was experiencing.
I told him I was fine. 
I laid flat on my back for many moments easing back into half sleep.
“I must let you go,” his voice seemed to come from the depths of the earth.  His hands caressing my arms and shoulders.  My head resting on his chest.  Trying to hold back tears my body began to shake.
“I love you.  Why must we be parted?”  I cried softly as I searched his eyes for the real answer.
Even though he smiled I saw the sadness in his eyes.  He was holding something back.  A secret, if shared, may shatter every fond memory we had shared.  But what were those memories?  I couldn’t recall any specific event.  The only remnant of happy times was the feeling of pure joy and happiness.
We sat in the study of a great mansion, speaking softly to one another.  There was another person with us explaining what would happen next.  My memories would be altered and I would not remember my life.  It was necessary to move on.  I needed to live a normal life.  It was not my time.  My time for what?  I reached for Bastian’s hand as he faded away like smoke.  Tears streamed down my face.
Victor rolled out of the bed and left the room, the movement waking me from my tortured sleep.  Leaving the warmth of my bed, my feet touched the soft carpeting on the floor.  I reached for the cup on the bedside table.  I took a sip.  I closed my eyes and could see Bastian’s face as if he were standing right in front of me.  Kind emerald eyes curtained by long dark lashes and thick brows looking deeply into my eyes.  I could hear his low mellow voice telling me all things would be set right.  His sculpted jaw revealing its strength with each word spoken.
Leaving my room I slowly walked down the hall through the living room, dining room and into the kitchen.  I surveyed the mess left by my daughter, Allisa.  She had stayed up baking lemon squares with her half brother, Alexander.  I began clearing the center island and then wiped it down, still wondering what it was that I had dreamt.  Stacking the dishes on the countertop next to the sink I gazed out into the backyard.  Doves pecking at the newly rain-washed lawn.  Sparky, the fourteen year old pitbull-lab, staring back at me.  I watched the horses at the back of the property slowing grazing and enjoying the softly falling rain.
Evan walked in, greeting me: “Good morning, Mom.”  He stood and watched me as I wiped down more of the countertops.  We talked about the rain, the animals and him getting his hair cut.  He told me that he was going to go take a shower.  Left alone in the kitchen again I began to recall other conversations:
“Mom, isn’t this music great?” My mother looked at me like I was crazy.
“This is the music my mother listened too when she was a teenager.  This is not from my era.”
“I think this music is romantic.”  I replied.
“You were born in the wrong era,” her eyes twinkling as you spoke to me.
I then remembered spending time with my family the night before.  We were listening to the radio as we drove home from getting ice cream.  The music playing on the radio was from when I was a teenager.  The memories evoked were from a sad time in my life.  The tightening in my chest increased.
“I hate this music.  It brings back such bad memories.”
“I love this music,” Victor’s voice booming through the car.
“That’s because you led a charmed life as a teenager.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were popular and it was a big party all the time for you.”
“I did have fun,” Victor smiled.
This conversation went on for a bit more and then Allisa asked, “What kind of music do you like? And what era do you think you should have been born in?”
“I think of the storied written by Jane Austin.  I would have been ignorantly happy in a simpler time.  I find peace and comfort in simple activities like gardening, sewing, drawing and painting.”
As the morning faded into mid-day so did my dreams fade.  I wondered if in fact my memories had been changed so that I did not remember a life time with a man I had once loved so passionately. 
Who was he?  
Who was I?