“Song of Ourselves”

Coming off our final unit on Romantic poetry, specifically a deep dive into Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, we wrote a final send-off poem together, inspired by Whitman’s send-off in section 52 of “Song of Myself.”

Here is the text version of our “Song of Ourselves.”  And here is our video:

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Could Take a Tip from Arundhati Roy

Recently, I have been reading a lot of popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy books that all feel like they are lacking something. While the world is usually intriguing, I often find myself bored or unsettled by the characters who are the stars of the novels. Through reading GOST, I have figured out just what these books are lacking and why.

In the first chapter of GOST, we are taught more about Rahel and Estha’s world than I was taught about any of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy worlds that I have read in the entirety of their first novel. Along with this, the chapter doesn’t feel rushed or jam-packed and all the transitions are swift and unnoticeable. This is quite different than the Fantasy book that I most recently read called An Ember in the Ashes, where the transitions between perspectives were abrupt and random.

I think Roy’s writing differs from many of these Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers because of what/who she centers her story around. GOST is primarily driven by the characters, particularly Rahel and Estha. Their desires and feelings decide where the plot will go and what conflict will arise. In a Dystopian book that I just read called Legend, it felt as if the world was the main character and drove the plot while the actual protagonists were a mere backdrop.

I believe that many of these authors get too caught up in making their make believe world into something that is bigger and better that they forget about what is supposed to be the driving force of the novel. This does not mean that big and beautiful book worlds cannot exist, for Roy explains all the intricacies of Rahel and Estha’s world. The difference is that she does this in a swift and coherent manner that ultimately supports the action and conflict of the main characters. This is why Roy’s writing has come to inspire my current sci-fi story writing, even though it is a completely different genre.

Stefon: An Unexpected Love Story for the Ages

We have all heard of SNL. The long running late night comedy show has been running for about four decades and offers comedy in many forms such as satire, sketches, news updates, and more. One of the most popular story lines, however, is that of a guest star on weekend update: Stefon.

When Seth Meyers hosted Weekend Update, Stefon came on as a guide to New York City, offering crazy tourist advice covering parties, activities, and food. But Stefon became way more than just a side character, as the skit went on to receive multiple reiterations and formed into a full blown story.

Dramatic Comedy as applied to Aristotle’s definition (at the least) is a meaningful art form because it allows us to see humanity in exaggerated circumstances, and it is open enough to shape to what society wants. Stefon is an extremely exaggerated character, pointing out the almost absurd hipster customs and lifestyles of certain New Yorkers, as well as mocking the way they talk and dress. But despite the completely ridiculous satirical sketches, the audience started to become very connected to Stefon as a character, specifically when it came to his relationship with Seth Meyers. As the seasons went on, people watching the show recognized a flirtatious attitude forming between Stefon and Seth Meyers. Noticing this, the skits started to shape towards that potential romance. And in the pair, the audience members found a story to hold on to. Stefon as a concept is funny on his own, with the talents of Bill Hader and the writing of John Mulaney supporting the character, but he is also very human. And, what started as just a characterization, turned into a comic hero, with the story reflecting what society wanted.

What is so cool about this “dramatic comedy”, is that the story was never set in stone, perhaps because it was never really supposed to be a full story. But, as the sketch went on, and the people responded, a story was created out of it. Because of this, a very real very natural romantic comedy was formed out of almost nothing. And what is also wonderful about this example is the writers/actors ran with it. The comedic form is very open, and allows for these kinds of spur of the moment twists and changes. Stefon could have just stayed a simple side character, but instead turned into a whole character with a love interest and, (spoilers) in the end, a husband. When Bill Hader left the show, the writers concluded the skit the way it had built up until that point, with a dramatic episode ending in the marriage of Stefon and Seth.

Life Is Beautiful

I never saw myself smile or laugh while watching a film about a tragic historic event that affected so many lives. With Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, a film about a Jewish Italian waiter (Guido) who falls in love with a women, eventually they marry and have a son (Giosue) . Then in turn of events the family is separated from each other and taken to concentration camps. The father focused to protect his son from the horrors of reality, he convinces his son that it is only a game and everyone is playing along. the film is set against the tragic backdrop of the Holocaust, but doesn’t focus on the tragedy. Benigni uses comedic elements, antics and humorous interactions, and physical gestures to bring comedy to the dark event.

Benigni use of noticeable physical gestures, humorous interactions, and antics. Benigni starts the first half of the film more lighthearted and romantic between two characters who eventually fall in love. But the audience is soon reminded that this movie is set in a tragedy under Mussolini and Nazi power.

The first comedic strategy Benigni uses is the interactions Guido has with his son Giosue, who doesn’t understand what’s happening around him. Benigni takes advantage of this and uses the knowledge of a child for comedic purposes. For example in the film, upon arriving at the prison camp, Giosue is confused why so many people are lined up, the father Guido explains that everyone is lined up because they can’t wait to get inside. Benigni is using the interactions between a son and father to express comedy in very tense situations in the film/

Another comedic strategy Benigni uses is Guido’s physical gestures throughout the film. Throughout the film Guido performs a goofy walk while being escorted by any Nazi solider. Guido performs this goofy walk because he knows his son is watching him. Guido needs to act funny to show his son that the situation isn’t serious. There are many physical gestures throughout the film that bring light to the situation.

Life is Beautiful is the perfect example of comedy because it focuses on bringing the Holocaust a very dark event in history into the light with comedic strategies.

Cosmic Love

Florence and the Machine’s “Cosmic Love” has been with me for a long time now. From the first time I let this song fill my ears, Florence’s heart-wrenching words and explosive tone have taken me to a completely different world. It is both powerful and sentimental, beautiful and tragic. Out of all the songs I have listened to, this one is the closest to poetry.

The very first lines of the song are:

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes

I screamed aloud, as it tore through them

And now it’s left me blind

Here, Florence Welch is describing how she was completely blinded by her love for this individual. Using several elegantly crafted metaphors, Welch compares her blindness by love to a star that fell from her love’s heart and right into her eyes. The metaphors help to build an image of not only the experience, but of the feeling. This is one of the fundamental qualities of poetry.

In the second verse, Welch sings:

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat

I tried to find the sound

But then it stopped, till I was in the darkness

So darkness I became

In this stanza, Welch is illustrating her feelings of depression and hopelessness that her relationship has led her to. She spent so long in the dark searching for love, that when her love eventually left her, she was still stuck there. The repetition of the word “darkness” emphasises her feelings of despair. The repetition of words in this way is a key characteristic of poetry that I have seen in many other famous works.

In a heart-wrenching bridge, Welch sings:

I took the stars from our eyes, and then I made a map

And knew that somehow I could find my way back

Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too

So I stayed in the darkness with you

In contrast to Welch’s previous lines that describe feelings of blindness and despair, this stanza holds a spark of hopefulness in it. This is the turning part of the poem, where she decides that she will love this individual, despite the darkness that he has pulled her into. She realizes that he is just as lost as she is, and she will be there with him, in the darkest of times. Like in previous stanzas, this bridge represents the climax of an experience, and tells the story right at its core. That is a key element of poetry.

Finally, in a beautifully powerful chorus, Welch sings:

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out

You left me in the dark

No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight

In the shadow of your heart

This chorus is arguably the most powerful stanza in the entire song. It elegantly describes her feelings of being left in despair and depression from a relationship but wanting to stay in that relationship nevertheless. By comparing her emotions to various interstellar forces all throughout the song, Welch recounts her experience in a way that people will understand. Unlike simple stories, or artless information, experiences and emotions are harder to explain. That is why Welch’s use of understandable analogies is truly helpful to the reader of the poem.

All in all, I feel that this song is a true example of poetry. The stunning diction, rich metaphors, and powerful structure all contribute to the poetic element of this song. “Cosmic Love” illustrates not only a story, but an experience.

Cosmic Love

The Supernatural in Beloved and Exit West

When first reading Exit West, I assumed it was a futuristic form of historical fiction, a realistic story about two people during a time of war.  But when they first walked through the door, I thought had misunderstood or the story skipped forward in time. I thought it to be a mistake by Hamid to introduce such a syfy like portal in this very probable world, that he was confusing the reader more than he should.

In Beloved, I was even more sure that I was reading historical fiction.  A book about life after slavery? For sure. But then Paul D scared a ghost out of the house, Sethe was choked my mysterious fingers, and Beloved appeared and disappeared.

Although initially strange, I think that these supernatural aspects were necessary.  In Exit West, the magical doors transcend all barriers and create an accelerated migration, that gives Hamid an opportunity provide commentary about these topics.  In Beloved, the ghost forces Sethe to relive trauma that slavery has brought upon her, and gives Morrison a chance to give the reader a deeper understanding about living after slavery.  In both books, they are very central elements, and introduce ways to bring out ideas that wouldn’t have been articulated in a nonfiction book.

Can these books, especially Beloved, still be considered historical fiction?

Doors in Exit West: Magical Portals or Hidden Methods?

In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, main characters Nadia and Saeed travel to new places through doors. Although Hamid does not explicitly state that these doors are magical, context often leads the reader to believe so. However, the lack of explanation of the methods through which these doors function leads me to believe that they are not really magical portals, but instead metaphors for methods through which migrants can travel.

As can be seen through the news, there are many ways that people smuggle other people out of dangerous situations to safer places. For instance, there was a truck found in Britain that contained 39 dead Vietnamese people, which is believed to have been a truck full of hopeful migrants. Unfortunately, in this case these people did not survive their passage, but they found the opportunity through an open door, so to speak.

Hamid references these types of doors in a magical sense, but only because these open doors often present illegal and dangerous methods through which to act. Instead of detailing Nadia and Saeed’s journeys through the doors, Hamid decides to focus on what lays at the other side. Therefore, he does not have to reveal and expose such types of methods. He can also establish more focus on Nadia and Saeed’s story as migrants as they live in their destinations, not necessarily as they journey to these places.

Exit West and My Personal Connection

Mohsin Hamid’s novel “Exit West” portrays a variety of themes, but one that stuck out most to me was migration. Although there are themes of love, family, and religion, I found that the novels themes revolving immigrants and migration connected best to me because of my grandparents.

In my life I tend to be surrounded by two different worlds, my grandparents on my mothers side and my grandparents on my fathers side. My grandmother from my fathers side migrated from Panama and my grandfather on my fathers side migrated from England. Although these places are on opposite sides of the world, both these people share a life changing experience. Like my grandparents, Nadia and Saeed had migrated to a totally different world and had to adapt to many life changes. In today’s world, and especially in the US, there is a lot of commotion with fleeing immigrants and negative opinions towards them. Exit West is so captivating because it gives a perspective of how some people are searching for a better life and seeking asylum.

Overall with my personal connections and the current news, Exit West was a great representation of people in search of hope. In the end I find it important that more people read these types of Novels so they can escape their perfect worlds and dive into the realization of how many people live.

Is it Possible to Become an Existentialist?

After reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger and “The Myth of Sisyphus”, I am left wondering if it is even possible to be able to develop a complete existentialist mindset. Existentialists reject societal fabrications such as the idea that social constructs such as family have meaning, and they believe that pain and suffering are the only sure things in life. Since most humans are brought up to believe in these very social constructs, it seems as if it would be nearly impossible to completely reject them, only to replace them with existentialist thought.

I acknowledge that Meursault from The Stranger certainly holds existentialist views. He constantly rejects the acceptance of common social norms, such as when he experiences little remorse after killing the Arab. However, it is important to understand that, first of all, Meursault is fictional. He is the result of Camus’s imagination, and I find it unlikely that anyone like him truly exists. Second, event though Meursault is fictional, he is still human. Humans are the so-called existentialists, but it is important to must remember that humans inherently make mistakes. Therefore, it is unlikely that it could be possible to completely let go of societal fabrications in favor of pure existentialist thought.

The myth of Sisyphus and Camus’s interpretation of Sisyphus’s story in “The Myth of Sisyphus” illustrates the idea that humans (in this case, Sisyphus), can change their outlook to reflect existentialist thought and therefore become more at ease with life. After Sisyphus adopts existentialist thought, Camus argues, he becomes less bogged down with his fate. However, as in the case of Meursault, Sisyphus is human. It is unlikely for him to reject all of his previous modes of thinking in favor of existentialist ideals, regardless of his situation.

What’s So Interesting About The Stranger?

Meursault walking along the beach.

The Stranger is a book that stays true to its name. The reader follows a man who goes by the name Meursault and throughout the book we see Meursault respond to certain events in a peculiar manner that we wouldn’t deem as “normal.” Meursault is shown to have close to zero emotions on anything. It’s the way he acts and responds towards people that make him such a frustrating character.

Story begins with the death of Meursault’s mother. He explains to the reader that he never felt a deep connection with his mother. Of course he didn’t want her to die but he quickly accepted the fact that there was nothing he could do about it. He also didn’t seem to care all too much about her death. He never cried nor felt any pain compared to the other residents at the mother’s home. His interactions with the workers there were also quite unusual. He never wanted to see his mother corpse to see her one last time and his attention was toward the sunlight a lot of the time.

After his return from his mother’s funeral, he meets Marie again and begins to “date her” one could say. However, their conversations are quite strange to say the least and in my honest opinion, I don’t view relationships in that sense. Meursault goes out with Marie but doesn’t love her. You can see this throughout several of their conversations. On page 41-42, Marie questions Meursault asking him “do you love me?” Meursault showing no emotion says that he “didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t love her.” It’s this conversation where he reinforces his commitment to not showing any emotion towards anything.

So the questions still rises: What’s so interesting about The Stranger? The only thing I could comprehend is that we follow a man who doesn’t act normal in any sense that we can imagine. He’s the stranger in his society and people don’t know how to deal with him. That’s why the reader gets so frustrated with his actions throughout the book. We don’t understand why Meursault does the things he does and that’s why this book is so interesting. We don’t know what his next move is gonna be because he doesn’t act “human.”

This book forces us to think in a different way about human interaction and the way of thinking of a single person. This book is so interesting because it frustrates us, it shows us different ways of interactions, and it forces us to question society and how weird we are to others.

Foreshadowing the Future in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Everyone believes in something, and everyone has a dream: winning a state championship in track and field, passing that super complex math test, or resolving world hunger. But when these dreams come true, they’re not all we thought they were cracked up to be. In Gabriel Márquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” the townspeople all believe in angels; they have no trouble accepting that that’s what the old winged man is. The complication is that this angel does not meet the towns stereotypical expectations for him. In fact, he doesn’t look like the conventional angel, speak the language or fly. This conducts the townspeople to eventually accept the fact that their beloved wishes would not be granted by the angel in the way that they thought, essentially forcing them to face the ugly truth of their poverty ridden lives.

When the angel proved to be of no significance to the people they decided to move on to the next attraction that grasped their attention,which in this specific case was the spider woman. This can directly be tied into kindergartners as keeping them on track isn’t the easiest task similar to the townspeople. 

As a society, we have been taught to throw away the things we don’t need anymore. From our early days to our ruthless hallways now, our generation specifically, has been propelled towards this idea. 

I feel as though Márquez incorporated this theme of recycling into the story to target and mock the ways of society, then and now. He does this by using the natural the role of a reader to his advantage as he lightly weaves this idea through the story. This approach isn’t direct yet, readers end up grasping this perspective and overall vain concept from the characters that he is trying to convey.

“Cariboo Cafe” Levels of Delusion

The Cariboo Café, by Helena Marina Viramontes, tells a story about a unique small town through symbolism and the switching between multiple different perspectives. One of the defining characteristics of the story is the three different narrators. The part of the story that intrigued me the most was the structure. The fiction starts out in the perspective of Sonya who is locked out of her house with her little brother. Since Sonya is from an immigrant family she is told that she has to live under the radar and that her only safe space is her house. While she is drifting off into her thoughts, her brother is brought up. Sonya’s life has pretty much revolved around her little brother Macky. This little boy is her world and she realizes she needs to protect him. At this point in the story Macky didn’t seem very important but over time, he becomes the symbol that I am talking about.

Soon after the mention of Macky the perspective shifts to a cook who owns the Cariboo Café. The story dives deep into his background and how he lost his son Jojo. One night an old woman comes in with two kids who we later find out are Sonya and Macky. When the diner owner first meets them he has an instant connection with Macky. The reason he likes him so much is because he reminds him of his son Jojo. He favors Macky and treats him like a son. It’s almost like he sees Macky as Jojo for the few moments they’re in the diner together. The final perspective is the old woman who lost her son Geraldo, who was the same age as Macky. The old woman became really sad when her son was gone. Eventually that sadness turned into a mental issue. She started to believe she could get her son back (who was most likely dead). This all escalated to the actual kidnapping of Macky and Sonya. She placed Geraldo’s identity onto Macky and fully believed it was him. She also became really paranoid because the police were looking for the missing kids or her “Geraldo”. Since she knew what the police did to her Geraldo the first time, she had every right to be scared about them taking “her little boy”.

I view this story as the progression in delusion of the three people. The story starts out with Sonya who is Macky’s sister and ends with a woman who believes Macky is her son. It tells the same story through the eyes of three different people with three different levels of sanity. The order of the perspectives and delusion also show how pain can affect people. The amount of misery that the treatment of immigrants has caused on both Sonya’s family and the old woman is very clear in the story. The delusion is somewhat representative of what these immigrants have to go through. Sonya is very young so there hasn’t been much time for the pain to affect her; but the old woman has seen everything and has completely lost it. The amount of agony she has faced causes her to take another kid to make her feel okay again.

The Stance “Bloodchild” Has on Gender Roles

After reading through the story for the first time, my mind was filled with questions such as: “What did I just read? Why did T’lics have children by implanting Terrans (Humans) with eggs? Who make a story like this?”

The story sets us up in this unknown society on an unknown planet where Terrans (Humans) and T’lics (Aliens) live with one another in peace. We’re given some backstory as to how the Terrans and T’lics eventually came to be living with each other. They both, at one point, hated each other. Terrans would shoot to kill T’lics while T’lics would assassinate the Terrans at night. However, after years of fighting each other, both groups came together to discuss peace between the two groups. New laws were set among both groups and that leads us back into present day in the story. We follow Gan throughout the story as he discovers the truth about T’lic implantation. Gan was chosen from the day that he was born that he was going to be a NT’lic. NT’lic were designated Terrans that would host and give birth to Grubs, T’lic babies. One thing that struck me was that they typically only went for males.

After analyzing the story a second time, it came to my mind that this story experiments with gender roles. The story introduces this new land where men were giving more births than women just so that the T’lic population could continue to increase. You begin to realize that T’lic seem to have more control over the Terrans. It’s hidden in the words, but each species has a specific role that they’re expected to carry on throughout their life. Besides the point of survival, you come to a generalization stance where you wonder if T’lics only keep Terrans alive because they can be used.

T’lics saw it that men were either expected to have children with other Terrans or give birth to Grubs. For women, they were expected to have more children in order for T’lics to choose who would be the next chosen one to give birth to Grubs when they got older. T’Gatoi, the T’lic that lives in Gan’s home, states in the story that they actually prefer women to birth Grubs because they had more fat in them; however, they choose men so that women can have the ability to birth their own children. T’lics use Terrans only for the mere benefit that they implant their eggs inside of them and have them give birth to the next generation of T’lics.

This story plays with the idea about gender roles in our society and questions: What would happen if men obtained the ability to give birth? Octavia Butler does a good job diving deep into this idea while also telling a story like no other.

“The Cariboo Cafe” and Current Events

In Helena Maria Viramonte’s, “The Cariboo Cafe”, she constructs a powerful story that brings the reader to face hard reality’s, deal with current issues, an illustrates how many people live today. Throughout the past several weeks, “The Cariboo Cafe” has stuck out of the stories we have read to me, because of the intense reality that is shown. Hopelessness, Family, Immigration, Horror.

In many ways Viramonte’s story is not pleasant, but it strikes with a certain power. A Power to provide a fictional story but also display images in the readers head that truly stick. As of 2018, ICE held more than “42,000 people in custody each day” (CNN). All of these people that are detained in these horrible conditions are in search of a better life. Sadly, the characters within “The Cariboo Cafe” do the same, stuck in horrible conditions and try to persevere.

In the closing of Helena Maria Viramonte’s story, the third perspective shows a desperate mother who has grown so sick of pain, that she still is in search of her dead child. Many people like the woman of the third perspective face these very real problems and in the world that we live in, we do not always see that. Overall Helena’s story is most powerful to me because it shows a very real situation.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/12/politics/ice-detention/index.html

Terrans and Women Face Similar Reproductive Pressures

When we know something is science fiction we are quick to write off any weird characters or unnatural worldly elements. We see them as something that would never happen in real life because it’s a work of fiction. However, when looking at the underlying themes of “Bloodchild” and analyzing the role reproduction plays in it, there are similarities to the world we live in today. The people who are in power are also the ones who can’t have children, thus they make reproduction the sole purpose of the ones who can.  Though that may be a little bit of an exaggeration (but not really), there are clear gender roles in Octavia Butler’s story, but the reverse of the ones we see today.  

Today, women are constantly fed this image of a glorified homemaker and are told that their place is in the home, caring for children. The paragon of a woman is conflated with the paragon of a mother. Women are expected to be the submissive one in a heterosexual relatioship and bear the children. After all the baby comes out of a female reproductive organ. Thus, women feel the pressures of having a baby all the time. 

I saw this as my sister recently got engaged and after 6 years of dating the constant question from family members changed from “when’s the ring coming” to “when’s the baby coming.” Similar pressures are existent in this story as Gan has no agency over his body. He is brainwashed into having T’Gatoi’s baby because that is what he sees as normal in society, specifically his own family. 

Gan’s mother was one of the few people in her family who never hosted eggs before. After Gan eat his eggs, T’Gatoi convinces his mom to take the rest of his so she can enjoy the anti-aging benefits. Butler writes, “Unwillingly obedient, my mother took it from me and put it to her mouth. There were only a few drops left in the now-shrunken, elastic shell, but she squeezed them out, swallowed them, and after a few moments some of the lines of tension began to smooth from her face”(65). Here, the mother is pressured by T’gatoi to take the rest of Gan’s egg even though she never really wanted to in the first place. After taking it, Gan recounts that his “mother cried out- probably in surprise”(66). This is just a glimpse of the pain that the Terrans experience while taking the eggs. They were also described as “convulsing” and “bloody” since all births are via painful  c-sections. The pain that they endure while giving birth is similar to what a lot of women go through today, especially given the fact that about 30% of births are via c-section. 

Gan also sees the standard of hosting eggs many times within his family. Gan’s “father, who had never refused one [egg] in his life, had lived more than twice as long as he should have”(65). Similar to today, there is a standard of having more than one child as women are expected to go through the process of giving birth 2, 3, 4 times. Here, the father had gone through the process multiple times, another reason Gan normalized the process of hosting eggs.

How Magical is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Magical Realism?

After reading both Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I have begun to question just how far from reality Garcia Marquez really is. Does he meld the mythical and the pragmatic worlds, create his own world, or does he merely describe the real world in its entirety? Does he introduce the mystical “angel” and the spider-woman into the world with which we are familiar, or does he merely describe our world in extraordinary detail?

We fail to see the evidence of the flying carpets of the gypsy caravan or experience the insomnia plague of Macondo. This lack of vision may only be because we do not allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief, so that we can witness the true scope of the world we think we know. We need to view these foreign objects and events not as other-worldly occurrences, but as unexplained circumstances.

Garcia Marquez may describe events and objects that are not real, but that does not mean that he did not envision them in our world. He only adds a touch of magic that causes us to lose sight of their true meaning. He cloaks realities in his own imagination, possibly because he himself lacks an explanation. This leads me to dig deeper into his seemingly mythical stories. Is the old man truly an angel? Or is it Garcia Marquez’s own detail of a broken spirit, taking time to gather its strength?

The Old Blog is Dead! Long Live the Old Blog!

For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the AP Lit blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.

If you are interested, though, in seeing what past AP Lit students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.

old blog