Quieter Than Snow Essays

It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.

Melinda, 9

In this quote, Melinda is forthright about her belief in the benefit of silence. This statement defines Melinda's behavior for much of the novel. Its appearance in the first chapter indicates to the reader that this will be the belief that Melinda must overcome in order to be a happier and healthier person. The quote's strong, cynical tone show that Melinda does have a voice, she just does not want to use it outside of her own head.

It's as if they operate in two realities simultaneously. In one universe, they are gorgeous, straight-teethed, long-legged wrapped in designer fashions, and given sports cars on their sixteenth birthdays. Teachers smile at them and grade them on the curve. They know the first names of the staff. They are the Pride of the Trojans. Oops--I mean the Pride of the Blue Devils.

In Universe #2, they throw parties wild enough to attract college students. They worship the stink of Eau de Jocque. They rent beach houses in Cancun during Spring Break and get group-rate abortions before the prom.

Melinda, 30

This quote illustrates Melinda's recognition of the sexual, female role at her high school. The girls that are the craziest and most promiscuous are also the ones that are admired by teachers, parents, and students alike. Her focus on their appearance and possessions shows that it is not their personality, but how they look, that defines them in the high school world. Melinda strives to set herself apart from this female role, and her desire to avoid it is part of what keeps her from allowing herself to grow for most of the novel.

"The Constitution does not recognize different classes of citizenship based on time spent living in the country. I am a citizen, with the same rights as your son, or you. As a citizen, and as a student, I am protesting the tone of this lesson as racist, intolerant, and xenophobic."

David Petrakis, 56

This is David's statement to Mr. Neck after the classroom debate on U.S. immigration. This comment causes Melinda to be impressed with David's ability to be eloquent and outspoken, even in the face of a strong authority figure. Melinda wishes that she were confident enough to stand up and make arguments like this one. Furthermore, this quote relates to Melinda's own high school struggle. The argument David makes is for societal inclusion. He protests intolerance and the denial of rights. Unfortunately for Melinda, there is no hallway constitution. Social inclusion is not something mandated at Merryweather High.

I just want to sleep. The whole point of not talking about it, of silencing the memory, is to make it go away. It won't. I'll need brain surgery to cut it out of my head.

Melinda, 81-82

This quote illustrates Melinda's struggle with her own memory. As hard as she tries to forget what happened at the party in August, the memory stays with her, even if it is below the surface. At this point in the novel, she is beginning to realize that silence and repression will not lead to forgetting or healing. She means two different things when she says she wants to go to sleep. First, her anxiety has kept her awake at night and she would like to physically fall asleep. Secondly, and more metaphorically, Melinda would like to drift off to a sleep world where she is no longer Melinda and can forget about this new, unpleasant life she has found herself in since August.

"You did a good job with that Cubist sketch," he says. I don't know what to say. We pass a dead dog. It doesn't have a collar. "I'm seeing a lot of growth in your work. You are learning more than you know."

Mr. Freeman and Melinda, 121

This conversation challenges the traditional young adult novel form. Usually, a coming-of-age story will feature a struggling teenager searching for an older and wiser adult to be their confidant. This conversation presents the reverse. Melinda lacks the capacity to respond to someone reaching out to help her. She instead focuses on the dead dog on the side of the road, because she is not yet ready to recognize and accept help. This is also an example of a method Anderson uses to show the reader the gap between Melinda's perception, which is our window into the world of the novel, and what those who perceive Melinda from the outside see. Like Ivy, Mr. Freeman sees something in Melinda's art, and herself, that Melinda can't yet.

Hawthorne wanted snow to symbolize cold, that's what I think. Cold and silence. Nothing quieter than snow. The sky screams to deliver it, a hundred banshees flying on the edge of the blizzard. But once the snow covers the ground, it hushes as still as my heart.

Melinda, 130

This is Melinda's response to Hairwoman's continued discussions of symbolism in Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. It serves two purposes. First, Melinda connects herself with the novel by saying, "it hushes as still as my heart." This shows recognition of her similarity to Hester Prynne, the protagonist of The Scarlet Letter. Melinda too feels isolated and alone because of the consequences of a sexual act, though for her Melinda it was forced. Secondly, this quote is representative of Melinda's seasonal mood changes. During the winter, she is at her most alone and depressed. She is as quiet as the snow.

I'm trying to remember how we got on the ground and where the moon went and wham! shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells wet and dark and NO!--I'm not really here, I'm definitely back at Rachel's crimping my hair and gluing on fake nails, and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up

and zips his jeans.

and smiles.

Melinda, 135-136

This is the only point in the book in which there is a complete disregard for grammar rules. Anderson instead writes Melinda's account of the rape in the same way that her memory would construct it. Traumatic events are not stored in a normal, linear fashion, but in bits and pieces with overlapping thoughts. Because of their non-verbal construction, painful memories are also harder to talk about. Although much of Melinda's commentary is non-linear and fragmented, this passage is noticeably abnormally so, highlighting how difficult the event is for her to verbalize, even inside her head.

"But you got it wrong. The suffragettes were all about speaking up, screaming for their rights. You can't speak up for your right to be silent. That's letting the bad guys win."

David Petrakis, 159

David Petrakis tells Melinda this after she informs him that she received a "D" on her extra credit report. This quote illustrates Melinda's female voicelessness by contrasting her with some of the most outspoken females from history. This quote also challenges Melinda's viewpoint on silence and encourages her to regain her voice, and highlights how David is an encouraging male figure, like Mr. Freeman, in contrast to the violent Andy and repressive Mr. Neck.

"He's not chopping it down. He's saving it. Those branches were long dead from disease. All plants are like that. By cutting off the damage, you make it possible for the tree to grow again. You watch--by the end of summer, this tree will be the strongest on the block."

Melinda's father, 187

Melinda's father says this to a passing child who asks why the arborists are chopping down the oak tree. The quote could be as easily applied to the tree as it could be to Melinda. Melinda has many branches that are dead from disease. At the end of the novel, she realizes that she needs to cut off these dead, damaged branches, no matter how painful it may be to do so, in order to grow again. This quote gives the reader hope that once Melinda does this, like the oak tree, she will be one of the strongest around.

IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding. Andy Evans raped me in August when I was drunk and too young to know what was happening. It wasn't my fault. He hurt me. It wasn't my fault. And I am not going to let it kill me. I can grow.

Melinda, 198

This is Melinda's moment of realization. She now knows that she cannot escape the memory of her rape and she recognizes that she should not feel guilty. It was not her fault. This quote indicates Melinda's growth in mental health and confidence, as well as the influence that the revelation of her secret had on her. After saying this, Melinda agrees to tell her entire story to Mr. Freeman. She is finally ready to recognize and accept help because she is no longer running away from her memory, and she has turned her loathing away from herself and to Andy, its proper object.

I originally wrote this March 21, 2014...

I got emotional shoveling snow.  I can’t believe it.  I got emotional shoveling snow.

I’m a grown-ass man and I got emotional shoveling snow.  Now, if I explain what’s currently happening with my family, you’ll go, “Oh, no wonder he got emotional shoveling snow.”  But, honestly, I don’t think any of that stuff is why I got emotional shoveling snow.

My dad is moving out of my childhood home.  After thirty-one years, my dad is leaving this house behind and moving to Northern California for a new job and an exciting new chapter in his life.  I couldn’t be happier.  I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for him.  And this house carries so many memories, a lot of which we’d all like to leave behind.  This house has been burglarized more times than you can count on two hands.  A combination of tough neighborhood stuff as well as personal anger towards my family.  That’s what happens when your mother used to run a gang intervention program.  Some kids fall through the cracks and end up defecating on your sister’s bedroom floor.

But that’s not why I got emotional shoveling snow.

The fourth anniversary of my mother’s death is coming up.

But that’s not why I got emotional shoveling snow.

Okay.

Maybe both of those reasons have something to do with why I got emotional shoveling snow but it’s deeper than that.  (Pun intended.)

I’m getting dressed to go outside and shovel the sidewalk and memories of my childhood are already flooding in. I remember the process it always took to prepare to shovel the walk…

I’d get home from school, eat some Jay’s BBQ potato chips, watch some cartoons on WGN, do my homework, look outside and realize, “It’s snowing AGAIN?!”  I’d take a deep breath.  I should shovel the walk before mom and dad get home.  I put my multi-striped tube socks on FIRST and then my long johns over them.  You can't let ANY skin show underneath your jeans.  That Chicago wind LOVES uncovered skin.  Then I put my long john shirt underneath my Ozzy t-shirt or my Anthrax t-shirt or my Van Halen t-shirt or my Living Colour t-shirt or my Poison t-shirt.  (Yes, Poison.)  I thought the long john shirt underneath my t-shirt was the coolest fashion statement EVER.  It showed that I was tough…in my Poison t-shirt.  I make sure to tuck in my under shirt (please see previous statement about uncovered skin).  Then, as I walk to the living room, I say a prayer: “Dear Lord,please let me have remembered to put my jacket, gloves, scarf, hat and boots by the radiator so they’ll be dry and warm when I put them on.”  Oh, thank God, I remembered!  I put everything on and lastly, before I go out, here comes the hardest part.  I have to choose which tape to listen to!  I choose Ratt’s “Out of the Cellar.”  I put my headphones on, press play and head outside.

Now, today, I press shuffle on my iPhone and head out.  No Ratt in my playlist anymore (although I still love that album).  I head to the back porch, looking for a shovel and…wait, dad, THIS is the shovel that you use?  He’s got this plastic thing that looks like he bought it at the 99 Cent Store.  No.  This is not MY shovel.  I go out to the garage, push some things aside and I find my baby.  It’s an old metal shovel that I think we got when my grandparents passed away.  THIS is the shovel that I used as a kid.  Sure, it’s a little heavier, sure it takes a little extra bending of the knees but it’s worth it.  This baby takes no prisoners.  I love hearing the sound of the shovel scrape against pavement.  That’s when you know that you’re really getting all of the snow.  And that’s when I start to get emotional.  I used to LOVE shoveling snow.  If I was gonna be in charge of shoveling the sidewalk for my family, if that was my responsibility, then I was gonna do it to the best of my ability.  When I shoveled my walk, I not only made a small path, I shoveled the whole damn sidewalk.  From edge to edge, only stopping when I hit grass.  It always took at least 2 ½ passes to clear the whole thing.  And I cleared all of the steps from one end to the other.  That was when I felt alive.  I never settled for anything less than everything.  I didn’t get wrapped up in how much time I spent out there.  I didn’t whine about the cold.  I didn’t wonder, “Is this the best use of my time?”  I never looked at how my neighbors were doing it, how good theirs looked.  Or the fact that it was already dark out and they were already inside.  I put my music on and started shoveling.  A little at a time.  And when Side A of my tape was done, I took a small break.  I pulled the scarf off my face and took a deep breath. I pulled off my gloves to flip the tape in my Walkman.  I’d look back behind me and see how much snow I had removed.  I imagined how easy it was gonna be for my parents to get to their cars the next morning.  I took great pride in my work.  Then I’d press play, put my gloves and scarf back on and finish what I had started.  And sometimes, if it wasn’t too cold out, I’d shovel a few houses down as well, clearing the snow from my neighbors’ sidewalks.  It was the least that I could do.  My neighbors were a bit older and I knew they’d appreciate it in the morning. And then, after that was done, I’d spread the salt.  That meant that I was almost done and, if I hurried, I could still catch “Family Ties.”

Some twenty years later, I’m standing here, with the same shovel in my hand, and tears are freezing to my face.  I’m still that same damn kid.  I forget that sometimes.  Some days, I start to doubt myself and I stop doing the work.  As a kid, how would that have looked: “What if I’m shoveling this snow the wrong way?  Maybe I should take a class.  Maybe I should watch videos of others shoveling snow.  What if this isn’t the best use of my time?  Why am I the only one still shoveling?!  I bet they're all inside having so much fun!  I didn’t make any money shoveling my neighbor’s snow.  That was a mistake.  I’ve gotta start asking for what I’m worth.  Maybe I should hire a publicist so everyone notices how good I am at shoveling my sidewalk? What if I’m just no good at shoveling snow?”

I still love shoveling snow.  I love the quiet outside.  I love this moment in time.  Just me and my shovel.  I wipe the tears away and I shovel as hard as I can so the movers can get up the stairs the next morning.  I shovel my neighbor’s walk because, hell, that’s what we do in my neighborhood.  I create a path so others can walk a bit easier.  And after I have my little cry, and I'm enjoying the crisp Chicago air, just when I think I'm done, I realize, "Shoot.  Dad's car is in the garage.  I've still gotta shovel the back.  I don't know if I have the energy."  Yes.  You can do this, Joe.  Stop worrying, just keep shoveling.

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