Out of Africa won seven Academy Awards in 1985, including Best Picture (up against The Color Purple and others). It was nominated for four more Awards that year. Since then, critics disagree about the quality of the film, some claiming the pacing was too slow while others remark about the incredible cinematography and the original score. For me, no other film will ever come close to affecting me as dramatically as Out of Africa.

From the first line of the movie—which is identical to the first line of the book—this film stole my heart and owned me: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” It was Meryl Streep’s voice, as Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dineson) in a Danish accent, soft and reflective, that viewers hear first, and when I first heard it, Karen Blixen, Meryl Streep, and Karen Henderson all sort of merged into one female protagonist.

The scenery of Africa is stunning, and much of the cinematography was filmed from the sky as Karen and Denys Finch Hatten (Karen Blixen’s lover played by Robert Redford) flew overhead in Denys’s bi-plane. The musical score adds to the incredible feeling of being there–flying over Africa and seeing for the first time the expanse and the majestic creatures of Africa from the air. Even today, I sometimes listen to the soundtrack and revel in the feeling of endless possibility and limitless potential, the feelings the film conjures for me during those scenes.

It was Karen Blixen (as played by Streep) who really spoke to me, however. An unbelievably independent woman, Blixen endured indignity after indignity because of her gender and her independent spirit, but she never gave up on her dreams, and she rarely even acknowledged the indignities she experienced. One time, only, in the film, she goes before a British magistrate and prostrates herself publically, begging for land where her African workers can go live after she is forced to sell her farm. Everyone else is more embarrassed than she is and she finally wins the promise of the magistrate’s wife to arrange for land for the Africans. This is the first moment in the film (and toward the end) where I have never been able to control my tears. Something about her humbling herself in that way because she loves and cares for her workers always touches me deeply, and from there on throughout the rest of the film, I cry in every scene until the end.

Another moment that speaks to me happens toward the end of the film as Karen prepares to leave Africa. At a hotel with a Gentlemen’s Club, where she had previously been banned because she was a woman, she is invited to join the men for a drink. Taken aback, she graciously joins them for one quick shot of whiskey, whereby all the men stand to honor her. It’s too late, really, but it’s sweet vindication of her as a woman to be reckoned with. Other parts of the film that stand out in my mind include Karen’s relationship with her head servant, Farah, and a waltz she shares with Denys about midway through the film. The contrast of the gentility of the music, the literature, the food and drink, and the manners, with the ferocity of the country, the animals, nature, and other humans strikes a discordant tone, yet at the same time the contrasts illuminate and validate the qualities of the other.

After I saw the film, I became a devotee of Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen), reading everything I could find about her. I was astonished to learn that we share the same birthday, April 17, and that she died the year I was born. Wanting to know more, I read a biography about her—the title I no longer remember—and I was somewhat disappointed to learn that she was actually a difficult woman quite often, she could be quite contrary, she had high expectations of people around her, and she sometimes had rather grandiose illusions of herself; I was saddened to realize that this woman I idolized was not as perfect as I initially believed. She was a real woman—an incredible, independent, strong, determined, sensual woman—but still real and still flawed. I had thought we had so much in common. Ah, perhaps we do.

International Literacy Day

Monday, September 8th, is International Literacy Day. I thought it would be appropriate to mention it here and post a link so you can check it out. Our first major writing assignment in Writ 095 will be a Literacy Reflection, a paper that examines, analyzes, and reflects on your own literacy. This is a great place to start. Check it out:

I’m Impressed!

Wow. I have to say I’m impressed by the tremendous response from students in Writ 095 and their willingness to go outside their comfort zones to create blogs. I know this has been a challenging and uncomfortable experience for some people; using technology like blogs–if a person is not used to it–can be incredibly frightening and frustrating. Despite that, many students have expressed interest and excitement in trying out this (relatively) new communication tool.

While not exactly “new,” blogs are still something most people have not tried. Until I decided to use blogs as a learning tool, I had never had my own blog either, and it has been a steep learning curve for me, too. My experience with Facebook has helped me feel less intimidated, but I have real respect for those of you who have not used much technology at all.

Your positive attitudes and willingness to “give it a go,” demonstrate a disposition and ability to take on new challenges and uncomfortable experiences. With that kind of an attitude, nothing can stop you. I am excited to start reading what you have have to say.

Losing a Pet

Some people will never understand the trauma of losing a pet. Until you’ve loved one, how could you understand?

My youngest sister and her family lost one of their two yorkies today. My sister texted me this morning, knowing that I would want to know that Max had died and also knowing I would totally understand. Our dogs are not our pets; they are full-fledged members of our families. Even more than that, they are the unconditional members of our families. No one has a choice about which family he or she is born into, and neither do dogs have a choice about which family adopts them. Nevertheless, they cheerfully accept whatever meager scraps of love they’re offered and never complain that a family down the street might have been a better deal.

All those times we mistreat our pets by leaving them alone all day, forgetting to arrange for timely meals, or dismissing their pleas for love because we’re busy or distracted, those all go by the wayside as soon as we award them a smile. The tails go up and side to side, completely forgiving and forgetting the neglect we might have imposed upon them, those of no choice. They never question, never doubt, never walk away. They simply seek our love and approval and express their joy when they get it.

Max was a special dog, too. Yorkies are known for their ability to smile. I’m not joking. He literally pulled his lips back and smiled as he wagged his little stub-tail and butt from side to side. He was especially happy when my husband would visit. My husband, Chuck, is also known as “the dog whisperer” because dogs instantly love him. Max really loved Chuck, and he would even smile when I visited alone (because he knew I belong to Chuck). He had the cutest bowed legs, as if he rode a tiny horse. In his last years, he would often just wander off to his bed under the counter when he was too tired to interact any more, but he would cheerfully respond when someone called his name.

My sister isn’t answering calls or my texts; she’s mourning tremendously while trying to logic the irrationality of despondency due to a dog. I’m thinking about Max and anticipating the inevitable nearness of losing my beloved Captain Basco. He’s been suffering lately with pain–we know this because his tail has been down, not in the usual high and wagging position. I don’t know how I’ll function when he goes; I will certainly have to cancel classes because I will be a trembling, sobbing mess.

Recently, a friend posted on Facebook a quotation taken from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)

That pretty much sums it up.

Wow! What a Great Start to the Semester!

I am super excited about the potential of this semester and this group of students. After two days of first day classes, I am encouraged by the positive attitudes and willingness to move (however reluctantly) out of comfort zones.

Remember that I am available for you during office hours (so far, no one has signed up!) and other times if those don’t work for your schedules. I guess we’re ready; let’s ROCK this!

Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”

Taken from “Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools” by Richard Paul & Linda Elder

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