Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Bigger on the Inside

“I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.” 
 - Daniel Kahneman 

    “Places, please!” As I make this final call, the house lights dim and I slide into my chair, heart racing before the play even begins. Before me sits my promptbook, short marks etched into the page waiting only for my breath to jump alive onstage. These cues, with some minor support from the cast, bring a world to life. In our world, bombs can explode outside embassies without killing anyone, American tourists can escape the Communist police dressed as sultans, and weeks can pass in the blink of an eye. When we step into the theater, we leave behind reality and get lost in the world of the play. Indeed, we call it a play because it occurs so far outside of everyday life.
     Unfortunately, everyday life does not stop when I step into the theater, as much as I wish it did. I spend hours tweaking a light cue or working on a scene, oblivious to the world continuing on without me. Not until I step outside the theater’s walls do I discover a day has passed unnoticed. With that discovery comes the realization that I still have hours of homework awaiting me. I pay the price for my time spent playing with late nights and little sleep. Invariably some part of me regrets my choice in the morning, but nonetheless I head right back to the theater that afternoon. The play proves to be both its own gift and curse. The more I play the less time I have for work; the less time for work the more stressed I become; the more stressed I become the more I seek refuge in the playing. I always finish a show proud of the work I’ve done, but the cycle of play and stress leaves me exhausted.
     Ironically, when asked to work on the next show, I never remember the regrets or the sleepless nights. I recall only the joy of playing and the anticipation of doing it again. So, when called upon to work my second show and then my third, I eagerly volunteer. My remembering self fixates on the world of the play, where I can spend hours creating without exhaustion. My experiencing self pays the price for my enthusiasm, but it gets no say in whether I take up another project. I want nothing more than to dive back into another world, to create a space separate from everyday reality. I need nothing more than a few weeks off to catch up on my sleep. But I’ve accepted that creation requires some self-destruction, and I dive back in.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Calm Before the Storm

This reflection responds to "The Beast in the Jungle," a short story by Henry James.

    Sheltered in a cove between the turbulent surf of the freshman year and the intimidating depths of the junior, sophomores have their last sustained moment of calm before going out into the ocean of life. Georgetown sophomores need to take advantage of this calm in order to fail. They have a chance to dive deliberately into something new, still distant from any lasting consequences. They swim, safe in the knowledge that their proximity to shore allows them easy return from an unsuccessful endeavor, for there is nothing done during the sophomore year that can’t be reversed. While they have this safety, they should try new things, fail, and then try yet more things. Through these failures they will define the contours of their passions, discover and repair the hidden weaknesses in their skills, and figure out how to chart their future course. But unsure of the purpose of this special year, without the societal expectations of freshmen or the blossoming wisdom of juniors, they fail to recognize their opportunity until they sail past it. Believing that their journey lies ahead, they miss the critical work of sounding themself out.
    If sophomores fail to create their own charts during this year, they will find themselves adrift during their later years. Only when lost will they frantically draft their charts, all the while buffeted by the tough storms of life. If only something could serve as a lighthouse, to alert sophomores to the dangers of waiting too long to explore. Enter “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James. A poignant warning against putting off living, this novella should play an integral part in the sophomore experience at Georgetown. Properly framed, it would serve as a reflective touchstone to warn sophomores against waiting too long for the world to come to them. If presented at the beginning of the second year, it could ground a discussion about the purpose of the sophomore year. Hopefully, this discussion would save many sophomores from wasting their year waiting and encourage them to dive in, cognizant of their need to try and fail.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Required to Fail

First, let me profusely apologize for my unannounced and extend absence. I could offer up a number of excuses about this semester being busy (which it has been) or stressful (which it really has been), but in the end it comes down to a crippling writer's block coupled with an overwhelming desire for sleep. As I slowly begin to shift down my life into the proper gear, I will be writing again. I promise.


Since President Obama’s call to increase the number of STEM students has focused attention on the role of education in shaping society, the question arises as to what purpose education serves in our society. As the leader of the nation, the President must concern himself with the needs of that nation and naturally sees education as a tool for societal improvement. To that end he has focused his energy on repurposing education to meet society’s needs. While this aim appears laudable, it ultimately confuses the tendencies of education with its true goal. A real education provides the means for an individual to reach their fullest potential. Rather than acting as a mechanism for societal change, education’s ultimate goal is the self-actualization of the individual. Education tends to improve society, but only insomuch as fully actualized people tend to greatly benefit the society the live in.

If we want education to serve the serious purpose asked of it by the world, to prepare women and men for the work of moving civilization forward, it must be allowed to revel in a spirit of play. In order to help people reach their fullest potential, education must occur outside of ordinary life. It must be freely undertaken without any interest in material gain; indeed education must absent itself from any thought of immediate usefulness. Education requires play because education requires failure. Only through failure can you discover what works, and what doesn’t, for yourself. Lest your first failure dissuade you from trying again, it must not have lasting worldly consequences. Play protects education from those consequences and in doing so provides it with the space to undertake its work. The problem begins when our crusaders, ignorant of education’s true purpose, attempt to short-circuit this process. When the focus of education shifts from the individual to the needs of society, utility corrupts its playful nature. It changes the questions from “How does my knowledge enhance my understanding of myself and the world?” to “How is my knowledge useful?” Utility imposes consequence upon education and draws it back into the real world. Once thrown into the ordinary, education loses the play elements which make possible its work.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Harmony

There's a lot that can be said for the beginning of the school year. It's an end to all of those projects you promised yourself you would finally get done this summer, only to leave with half-empty rooms still unpainted. It's a chance to see friends again and make new ones. It's a return to regimen after months of pushing back the alarm or not setting one at all.

This particular beginning presents a new set of challenges and offers new rewards. Two of my best friends have not moved back alongside the rest of us. Others have remained on campus, but they have become just as distant. And, as always, one must settle into a routine which invariably will fall apart during the first week of classes. At the same time I get to reconnect with professors and classmates; resume projects left fallow over the summer; and dive into new classes. One of those projects is stage managing the fall show, which is shaping up to be a great challenge and a great reward.

The title sophomore comes from the Greek for "wise fool." As I assume that mantel, proud that I could figure out half of that translation without Wikipedia, I am trying to be conscious of the places where my wisdom falls short. In seeing the incoming first years I am reminded of my early moments here and am trying to resist the temptation for my advice to become preaching.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Martyr Poker

The third in a series of three responses to The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

Georgetown students suffer. They suffer greatly. They suffer often. Or at least this is the impression one gets from listening to us in Lau on the weeknights. Our day consists of nothing but work and class or so it seems. It’s as if we are striving to be busier, more miserable, and more sleep deprived than the next person. Not all of us are guilty of this martyr poker (although I certainly am some times), but it is a pervasive attitude throughout campus. I don’t believe most of what we suffer qualifies as true grief, but I think Joseph’s advice to Plinio is just as applicable to us. Serenity is not childish and it’s not escapism. We should strive for serenity because it is the way to share in the perfection and beauty of the universe. I don’t completely agree with that, but I think Georgetown could use a bit more serenity (if not for beauty, then at least for sanity’s sake). Halfway through first semester one of my friends pointed out the game of martyr poker we were all playing. Once I was aware of it I noticed myself, and almost everyone else, playing it everyday. So I tried to stop. When I didn’t try to out-suffer my peers I found that I had more time and energy to actually do my work and I felt much more content. The less I complained, in fact, the better I felt. Then I could calmly attack my work without worrying about what others thought or were doing. I had found some version of serenity. I think if more Georgetown students tried something similar to Joseph’s advice they would more content and more productive. Possibly just plain happier. But more importantly, I think it would foster a more positive atmosphere on campus that would encourage people to do better work and be better people. 

Thanks to Michelle for the term 'martyr poker.'

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Odyssey

2:15  PM PDT - Passengers begin boarding the strange vessel. We are greeted by smiling figures who must be gods of some sort. They shepherd us into tight rows and run through a strange ritual involving much hand-waving and few words. None of my fellows take notice.

2:45 PM PDT - We take to the sky in what I'm now sure is the belly of some large beast. The small child in front of me seems to be the only other human aboard. We both look through the beast's translucent scales onto the shrinking fields below. Every other passenger is apparently unable to see throw the skin and stares down at brightly colored religious texts with pictures of floating, bouncy circles floating in water. It seems to calm them.

3:05 PM PDT - A disembodied voice informs us that we are returning to our departure point. Something about smoke on board. If I remember correctly smoke means fire, but the voice assures us everything is okay.

3:55 PM PDT - We arrive back in what seems to be an exact replica of the place we just left. As if by instinct the passengers form a line at a nearby altar. Praying to the deity of flight, perhaps. I follow, hoping to discover some way of leaving this strange place.

3:58 PM PDT - I approach the altar. The red-clad priestess assures me that we will take care of you. I do not who this we is, but they must be the ones in making this all happen. I can't fathom what they have planned for us. She hands me numerous slips of paper. One, she insists, is worth much money and the others will grant me passage home. It looks like no money I have yet seen in this strange land, but I accept it and await further instructions.

5:20 PM PDT - A small group of passengers is plotting some sort of revolt against our (I'm not sure if they are guards or guardians) watchers. It seems to largely consist informing them of how outraged they are and then walking away. I am unsure what purpose it serves, but have long since ceased questioning this culture. I go to find pizza.

UPDATE 8:00 PM PDT - The younger ones among us have grown restless. I believe they are hungry and wish to forage. They are eying the elders, sizing them up it seems. I think now's a good time to find a new seat.

UPDATE 9:12 PM PDT - A strange sound emanates from the ceiling. The sounds are quite soothing and they seem to be lulling the majority of the passengers into what can only be called a stupor. One of the priests distributes some type of ration. It appears to be edible.

Seattle Rain

When they realized what was actually happening, the first thing they did was blow the bridges. The thought was that by trapping the infection inside the city limits an evacuation could proceed without the need to carefully screen every person. Unfortunately, the infection had already spread far beyond the arbitrary county line, necessitating intense screening at all of the embarkation points. Far worse, however, was the wreckage from the bridges blocking the channel. What was a five-minute stroll from the assembly areas to waiting ships now became a three-mile slog through infested streets to reach the few unblocked transports at the mouth of the sound. I would have said “I told you so,” but I was a little busy fighting my way through the remnants of Seattle’s lock system to comment on any of my superior’s decisions at the time.

We had been stationed with the Army Corp of Engineers to ensure that the locks leading from the harbor to the channel stayed open and zombie free during the evacuation. It seemed a little counter productive to us, given that the four bridges downstream were nothing more than inconvenient scrap metal at the moment, but we set up our perimeter and held tight for two days. When we realized the evacuation had fallen apart and we’d been classified as expendable, a corporal who we fished out of one of the salmon ladders was kind enough to share that lovely piece of news, we figured it was time enough to go. Anyone left loaded up into the inflatable dinghies salvaged from a barge caught in locks. The last memory I have of the Pacific Northwest is zombies bursting out of the salmon shoots in the damn. I never found out if the living dead can be surprised, but they sure looked like it just then.

I first met Katy Wilson on the deck of the USS Essex a few years before the Outbreak. She was commanding a Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Pendleton which had just finished up an six-month deployment in the Indian Ocean. They had been taking part in the U.N. peacekeeping mission along the demilitarized zone between China and India, acting as a mobile reserve and helicopter base for UNMICA (United Nations Mission in Central Asia). I had been assigned to her unit as a combat psychologist, part of new Defense Department program to help diagnose combat-related mental illness before it became too advanced, and expensive, to treat. After the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military had been swamped by the number of returning service members suffering from PTSD. It took a number of embarrassing scandals and a few unfortunate incidents to make the brass get serious about treatment. The last few recovery clinics were just emptying out when India and China decided to have at it. By the time the U.N. decided to send in peacekeepers, a number of people had decided it was better to provide care at the source than after the fact. Which is why I got to move from my air-conditioned office teaching command and combat psychology at the Academy to the sunny South Pacific. I was to spend the three weeks before they arrived home evaluating the Marines and developing standard practices for extended deployments. My first stop, after the head, was to discuss my assignment with Colonel Wilson.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ode to the West

A journey is a story
It opens on a cast of characters
Baking under a dusty sun
Follows their arc like the shallow parabola
Of the old truss bridge right outside of town
And concludes with a sigh
Under the evening rains

The barbed-wire fences run 
Alongside the tracks for miles 
The wooden posts blending seamlessly 
Into the hills which tower 
Over the tracks like sentinels 

Slain, the watchers fall away
To reappear along the horizon
Folding over each other like
A child’s drawing, edges perfect
Curved unending into sky

Endless, spotless 
The heavens blend from gray 
To blue 
Dotted only by the dust 
Of a tractor, alone in the fields 

The silence of the pastoral world
Broken only by the whistle
Blown as a warning to wary
Cars, impatient in the heat


cookingwithamy.blogspot.com


The peace inside is just as fleeting 
While small feet scamper by 
Voices from the wall proclaim 
A stumbling narrative of artichokes and garlic 
Mingled with corrections and apologies 




They ignore the iron pistons
Drawing black liquid from the black soil
Which rise and fall in time
To music known only to them

Sleeping alongside these giants 
Are infinite rows of greenery
Arranged like the barcodes
Awaiting them on the shelves
First lettuce, then olives 
And the ever-present grape 
Growing where no grass ever could 

Soon the entire valley is full up
Food for a nation moist
– Leaves glistening in the slow-setting sun –
Covers the floor, mountain to mountain
Checkered by poverty and pickups

Nearing the first cluster of cities 
The cars race alongside the tracks 
Where once they were victorious 
Now they fall behind 

Through the windows
Orbs of light dot the horizon
Reflecting off the opposite side
Multiplying out to infinity

As the train trundles on 
The changing of the guard 
Families replaced by singles 
Spreading cream cheese 
On bageled substitutes for dinners missed 




Mount the bunk
Careful not to lose your head
Watch out for the one with the cape
Follow the swordsmen fleeing his mother
Lights out


 

With the morning comes
Vibrant greens and blues
The tracks float above the lake
As half-awake breakfasters munch

Before the orange juice
The plains spread out ahead
By the French toast, mountains
Slowly, then quickly
And then the ground falls away

Clinging desperately to earth
Surrounded by empty wilderness
Filled with sentinel pines
Small patches of children
Guarded by towering elders

Alternating tunnels and trestles
Wrap around the peaks
Each darkness brings new
Scenery and foliage
Dryer and darker

Descent, unnoticeable 
Brings crossings and lumberyards 
Playgrounds and backyards 
Too-short fences fail to hide 
Private lives scattered in the grass 


Rust mingles with water
Along rivers long marred by industry
Reclaiming stolen beachfront
One bolt, one rivet, one weld at a time





Islands herald the northern points 
Ships grow longer than trains 
And bridges multiply 
Another of countless valleys 
Familiar to settlers from ‘49 

The squeaking, which disappeared
One stop past home
Has surfaced as the train slows
Past spotted cows and fields

Clouds here are rich 
Thick, textured by breezes 
Off the sound – not bay – 
The southern blue speckles 
Amber-tinted grays 

Some clusters rise
Others finish their last beer
A final fact floats down the car
Houses replace fields
Telephone lines, pines

We follow one final curve 
Past the fishermen casting low 
The half empty parking lots 
Suburbs mixed with farms 
Before the drizzle coats the windows

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Let There Be Light

Museum Associates/LACMA
In the corner hovers a large white cube. It rests no more than two feet off the ground and lets off a subtle glow. You step in through the corner opposite it. You are sure that the cube is there, confident in its absolute solidity. Except you are wrong. There is nothing there. But there is. You see a white cube that you swear is plastic or well-polished marble where in fact there is only light.

James Turrell is an American artist who specializes in instillation pieces exploring light and perception. The L.A. County Museum of Art is currently hosting an exhibit that chronologues his work since the 1960s. On a visit to California for family and college visits, we stopped off for a bit of culture. Both my brother and I have been doing lighting design for our respective theaters, so an exhibit based entirely on light intrigued us. We expected something very much along the line of the luminescent cube: interesting and creative, but easily explained by a quick sweep of the room for the hidden projector (located directly opposite the cube, about 10 feet up). We couldn’t have been more wrong.

To attempt to describe any of Turrell’s works would be doing them an incredible discredit. Each room holds some trick of light that makes you question everything you have ever seen. There is a room that is entirely dark. No light at all. I thought I knew what darkness was, this incomplete blackness that obscures the view but leaves your eyes capable of sight. Nope, not even close. When they say you can’t see your hand in front of your face, they mean it. It’s enough to make your head hurt, in the best possible way.

The experience left me with more than a little bit of doubt. Not only about what is or is not real, which is something I deal with on a regular basis, but about what things really matter. In making light the central focus of the art where it is normally used to compliment it, you begin to wonder what you should really be looking at. Should it be the statue in the middle of the room, the shadows that fall at its feet, or the lighting instruments themselves? Or is it only when you consider all of it together are you truly seeing the art? And if those elements which are so often overlooked are in fact so important, what have we been missing in the world outside of the gallery?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The House on the Hill

There is something out of place about the Zen music. This is not a place of calm. This is a place where energy is directly proportional to volume and movement and energy is never in short supply. The last thing one expects is silence. Yet among the moments of entropy a stillness has formed. Nothing overly dramatic, at first no larger than the marshmallows melting in a bag by the fire. As the first person notices it she takes one of those centering breaths the shaved monks made famous. She is followed quickly by another, this one remembering that music sets a mood. The Zen music is her contribution to the growing storm of calm. It builds to a critical mass as the final two join in. The entire porch is overtaken by yoga masters and Zen pupils. 

Only then do the others hear the silence. Without knowing why, they fall into it too.

Some people build retreats in the hills to find peace. Others export the city with them. There is a romanticism about hills that we seem unable to shake. The shinning city on the hill has been used and abused to such a degree that it’s hard to take it seriously anymore. Almost no one remembers that the reason we like hills so much is because it’s a lot easier to kill the people when you’re on the top of the hill than on the bottom. We rarely build atop hills for the defensive advantage anymore. Now we go for the view or the seclusion or for the power play. My house is higher than your house kind of thing. Nothing like a bit of unhealthy jousting to rationalize your architecture. There is something spectacular about a sunset on a hillside that almost makes it worth it.

This hill is nearly perfect. The family has been here forever it seems. We call it a compound, not because we have a fully stocked bomb shelter on campus, but because it can fit the entire family without too much trouble. Given our numbers, anything less than an acre would be a squeeze. When the gate shuts with us inside, the cars lined up along the drive, it’s difficult to find a silent space. If the dogs don’t find you, the children certainly will. You can get a picturesque view of the sunset over the California hills, but only if you’re willing to share it with a nine-year old or some llamas.

But we don’t come out here for the view, as spectacular as it is. The draw is always the family. We are an eclectic bunch, leaning closer to nerdy than anything else. Everyone has their thing, their spot, their job and they fall right back into the routine. Love here comes flavored with sarcasm and a nipple twister is as sure a sign of affection as any hug. There is an aggressive sense of competition that never reaches the level of true contest, but buzzes as an undercurrent nonetheless. The living room serves as the fulcrum for the entire operation. On a well-worn armchair sits the great man himself. We run on his schedule and only out here do you rediscover that going to bed before midnight can be so relaxing. The Internet is slow enough here to prevent any attempts at Netflix. That is enough to force interaction, but the need for food means there is always someone to talk to in the kitchen.

Coming here is the best way to remember what family time can be. More often than not things get awkward, but in the best possible way. Here the family stories are kept alive. The is a little bit of everything is here: artists, computer scientists, educators, actors, students, business people, and a rotating cast to fill in the gaps. If you sit here and listen you could learn to run the world. It is here that silence captures your attention.

The hum of this self-contained universe is so rarely interrupted that any break in flow is significant. It is here, where a family concentrates to share the sounds of a lifetime, that silence makes itself heard.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thoughtless and Unsuspecting

 The second in a series of three responses to The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

It’s not that history needs to be made relevant, it is relevant. Or at least that is the argument I have been trying to make to people since they started inquiring about my choice of major. Inevitably, it is always followed up by the (usually concerned) question about what my plans are for after graduation. While I might not have an answer to that particular question yet, this book has provided me with the answer to the standard third question. Why is history relevant, you might ask? Because “he [Joseph] did not participate in its life thoughtlessly and unsuspectingly…for he knew its origins and history, was conscious of it as a historical entity…” and for my part I do not want to live life thoughtlessly and unsuspectingly. For me history is not merely a self-indulgent enjoyment of the past. It is also a sincere attempt to understand other people, how they lived, how they thought, and perhaps most importantly how what they did yesterday influences me today. That understanding in turn provides context for my life and for the world around me. It keeps at bay the urge to see things in a vacuum or as the result of a single action or moment. History allows me to reflect coherently and removes much of the unwelcome shock from reading the news in the morning. We are part of the historical process. It moves on whether we give it permission to or not. In choosing to be an active participant, one who is knowledgeable of what has come before, we take one of the most crucial steps towards become a fully realized person.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Specialized Fluency

goodreads.com
When I got to college, one of the most exciting prospects was never again being oppressed by a trite summer reading book. Or any summer reading at all. I naively imagined myself sitting on a beach, sipping a drink with an umbrella, reading a text of my own choosing. Luckily for me, I was completely wrong. I never really was a fan of umbrellas anyway. And while I have enjoyed a number of good books (of my own choosing) this summer, I have also thoroughly enjoyed The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, assigned as summer reading for a class in the fall. The major difference between summer reading for high school and college might be the craftiness of the instructor. In order to ensure we have been keeping up with our reading our professor required us to prepare three reflections on the book over the course of the summer. Here is the first:

“But each of us should be on the way toward perfection, should be striving to reach the center, not the periphery.” And thus the Music Master advises Joseph when they are discussing Joseph’s further education. My friend once sent me a cartoon of a circle with a very small bulge along the periphery. The caption helpfully informed me that this bulge was the amount I could increase human knowledge if I chose to get a PhD. That image has stayed with me and the Music Master’s advice reminded me of it once again. The world is pushing us constantly to every increasing specialization and sub-division. And when the age of the liberal arts education, of the person fluent in mathematics and philosophy and history, is recalled wistfully it is so often discounted as obsolete. Reading The Glass Bead Game has helped me solidify my own support for the liberal arts tradition. The Game requires an understanding of a large number of subjects and the ability to translate a concept in one discipline to another. The real goal of a liberal arts education should be have the knowledge and skills to approach problems from a large range of perspectives. Not to seek the peripheries of subdivided knowledge, but to seek of synthesis of inner passions in a center that combines all disciplines. In this, one is not straining one’s capacities by studying disparate areas, but is strengthening a central focus. Knowledge is not necessarily precious for its own sake, but its direct application doesn’t need to be immediately apparent for it to have value.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Use and Abuse of History

“Yeah, but what are you going to do with it?” Perhaps the greatest challenge facing a history major, or any humanities student for that matter, is explaining to people why what you do is useful. My first response is usually casual self-deprecation. More often than not I get off there and am not required to muster more of a defense than “I enjoy it.” I do truly enjoy it, but I often wonder whether I’m actually pursuing something worthwhile. And perhaps it’s a wistful desire to make myself more useful than I actually am, but I think a stronger grounding in history could do everyone a bit of good.

buzzfeed.com
It’s not that people don’t know history. I’m sure you can find enough bright-eyed youngsters to tell you who was the first President of the United States and what year we landed on the moon. But what troubles me is that people are able to capitalize on a lack of historical knowledge in order to advance their agendas. I don’t really mean to point fingers (I really want to, but that’s not really the point now, is it?), but there are certain groups who use what can charitably be called misinterpretations and uncharitably be called lies about history to garner support for whatever they happen to be pushing this week. They can do this because people don’t know the history that really matters.

Unfortunately, the history that really matters isn’t easy to teach and it isn’t particularly sexy. Dates and names are easy and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would call history sexy (although it can be pretty sexy if you know where to look and some of it is actually pretty relevant to a whole host of discussions in modern society). History that truly demands to be learned falls generally into what is termed social history. How people lived; what they believed and valued and decided in their daily lives; how social conventions changed over time. In this somewhat nebulous category lies the direct and indirect causes and seeds for the world we live in today. The grand narratives of statesmen and hallowed laws of ages past are arguably important, but it is how they played out in bedrooms and classrooms and restaurants that truly shaped us.

I am an unrepentant believer in the power of education and knowledge to shape society. In knowing more we become better equipped to improve the lives of our fellow human beings. That is a bit grandiose and possibly too abstract to act as the foundation of an educational system, but if you take an honest look at the educational enterprise today that’s what most of it is about. The hard part comes in realizing that every avenue of study can contribute to the service of humanity. It’s not that history needs to be made relevant, it is relevant. We just need to take a moment to stop societally devaluing it and recognize that we are all a product of our history. If we are ignorant of where we’ve come from, if we don’t know our starting points, how can we know if we’re going in a direction we’d be proud of.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Fear

The unspoken truth about fear is that it doesn’t belong in the realm of truth. If you get down to it not a whole lot really does, but fear is especially distant. If you’re standing in the uppermost room of the uppermost tower in the castle on the uppermost hill of the capital of the Realm of Truth (Population: Six), you can’t quite make it out. It’s past the River of Metaphor, tucked into the woods behind an abandon garage off I-95. Ironically enough, it is located centrally for the rest of us who aren’t graced with the necessary connections to reside in the Realm. Most of us pass it on our morning commute and those who don’t have it waiting at home. It’s never a big deal. Usually just a passing acknowledgement. Like that coworker who you see at the grocery store, but don’t know well enough to stop and chat with, so you wave or nod as you pass by. But you make sure not to slow down so you don’t invite further conversation.


Fear resides there not because it got a sweet deal on the lease (although with it’s credit, I’m sure it can swing a pretty solid rate), but because it needs the space. The woods are cavernous, shadowed from the world in their immensity and without meaningful boundaries. But it may not be what you think. Fear didn’t choose this place because it is dark and reminds us of the nightmares that haunted our young imaginations. In fact, the woods are about as bland a place as you can find in nature. Trees and small animals and the occasional deer, but nothing picturesque. No waterfall or hidden cliff to elicit the feeling of sublime. Just a leaf-filled creek meandering past a quaint house in need of a little repair. No, the woods are its home because fear is a panda. It needs vast swaths of forest to live in and likes to remain largely unseen. You know it there not because you’ve laid eyes upon it yourself. Only a sign and the occasional splash a fur reminds you of its presence. It would have chosen some tundra or even a big chunk of grassland, but it’s hard to find those with DSL-hookup and a convenient interstate nearby.

The unspoken truth about fear is that it is more human than we give it credit for. Ignoring the fact that fear exists only because we allow it to exist, which is honestly an insightful enough comment in itself to provide hours of reflective material, fear is normal. It is not some brooding dragon lurking in a cave with sinister intentions, surrounded by the smoking bones of the weak-willed mortals who saw fit to challenge it. It works a nine to five job, with some odd hours thrown in on the weekends. It shows up to parties and interviews and goes on vacation just like the rest of us. It has learned to live with the world as it changes. Repurposing itself with every new advance, just as we must do from time to time. It has a home and we have learned to live with it, just as we have our noisy neighbor’s dog and the kids who spend all day shouting in the streets.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tomorrow

If the apocalypse took place tomorrow I…

would run. The first thing they tell you about the walking dead is that they, quite obviously if you read the name, walk. They don’t run. They can’t speed walk. Stairs give them some trouble. Even a steep ramp will slow them down. So when they come for you, run. If you were smart and have your kit packed ahead of time, grab that as you head for the door. If you didn’t pack, either start praying or find the nearest heavy thing and follow the person who did. You’ll want to go somewhere safe. Then you’ll remember you can count the number of truly safe places on one hand with plenty of room to spare. Then you’ll freak out. If you can get past that, the trick is to breathe slowly, you’re a million steps closer to surviving. Then you find someplace safe. Preferably with people you trust. If you can’t find any of those, then people you love. Baring either of these groups, you’re better off alone. Seriously, learning to trust people while being chased by things trying to eat your brains isn’t the best way to develop healthy emotional attachments. Trust me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Take My Breath Away

You grow up
Expecting complaint
It is drilled into you
That the person
Most like Job
Is most like God
So asking questions
Becomes instead preparation
For inevitable rejection
Misery
Lamentation
And practiced narration
Of wrong turns
And unlucky days
So when unsolicited
Positivity pours out
Singing melodies
Unheard for generations
The world stops
And while crashing
Through walls and windows
And anything
Not nailed down
Flies by with you
Because after all
Inertia is powerful
And the world just stopped
You contemplate
The liquid joy
Mingled with the splinters
And question unprepared
Why he said
He’d never grow tired
Of you

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Favorite Sound

Silence speaks differently

Whether that silent moment, just before dawn,
When darkness dampens the rustle of a world,
Like you, not quite awake
The faint hum of the laptop rises in time
As you breathe and sink into the silence of sleep

The silent breath of anticipation, of knowing
The next three moves, but gagged you only watch
As characters tumble into preplanned plot points
Is different from the silence after, sitting stunned,
While the moment you and your hundred closest friends
Shared steps out and joins you in the silent second
Of being right and still surprised

Silence speaks differently

It is that thunderous moment when a mother,
Holding her grief in her arms like the child she has lost,
Enveloped in darkness, her eyes screaming wordlessly of pain
Slumps to a couch, alone in a room overflowing with family
And it is those years after, when she visits
That silent, grassy resting place

It is that space between two faces
Who, faintly smiling, touch beneath the silent sky
And look up at the silent stars, lying in the silent field
It says “I love you” 
And doesn’t ask any questions, but allows the silence
To speak for it

Silence speaks differently

There is the weightless silence of the cathedral’s stone
Lighter and more freeing than the awkwardness of a
Crowded, silent room when you’re late to class
That – ancient and rich – empties your mind
As it fills it with visions of a long-last past
Silent, yet ever speaking

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Try Every Door

One of the most important things you can do as a freshman is to make friends with upperclassmen. Aside from just getting you into parties (which they will do), they are a great resource. They know which professors to seek out and avoid, where to get a cheap sandwich, how to get to the airport, and who to ask for the best deals on laundry. But most of all, they will be people who inspire you, whether artistically, academically, athletically, or personally. Here is some advice from some wise (and snarky) upperclassmen:

Never vomit on your RA. 
Try every door, eventually some will work. 
Talk to your professors. 
The moments outside the classroom are often more important than the ones inside it. Though the ones inside it are pretty cool too. 
Take advantage of the city you live in. 
Trolling random parties as a pack is never cool. By all means, do it for a few months. Then don’t.
Take a class that makes you say, “Wait, that’s a class?” They tend to be the most fun. 
Go to as many things that you get invited to on Facebook as you can. 
 It’s great if you’re best friends with your floor, but you don’t have to be. Try things that interest you and you’ll find so many people that want to know you! 
If you don’t enjoy your major, the classes in that major, or the people in those classes then you’re probably in the wrong major. 
It’s never too late to change your major. Find what you love doing, then get paid for it. 
This is your chance to make mistakes; make them and learn from them. 
Your approach to life should be “Yes! And?”—Say yes to everything that is legal and moral. Go outside of your comfort zone—you’ll never figure out your full potential if you don’t. 
Don’t decide you hate it here in the first month—give it at least a semester and a half. 
The initial transition can be a little rocky—but riding through it is worth it. 
It’s okay to let your group of friends change—you don’t have to marry your freshman floor friends. Find the people that share your passions and keep sharing your passions with them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

You're what now?

“What does it mean to be Catholic?” is about as broad a question as it is possible to ask. It is a difficult question to answer for oneself; it’s possibly that hardest question for me to answer after “What are you planning to do with a History major?” Part of the issue is that separating what it means to be Catholic from what it means to be me is a challenging task. Catholic is such an integral part of me that it is hard to figure out which things go in which category or if it’s possible to delineate them that clearly. The other challenge comes from the sheer vastness of the Catholic tradition. When you ask, do you want to know what it means for me to be Catholic on Sunday, at school, in the voting booth? It’s the same faith, but it means different things depending on where I am. Or do you want to know what it means for me as opposed to the kid three pews back, the one two to the left, the priest at the altar? Again, same faith but possibly radically different expressions. You have the ascetics, the monastics, the liberal, the conservative, the mendicant, the militant, the hippie (ie. Franciscan), the family-values, the Vatican II, the Old Church, the list goes on. They are all Catholic, but it’s rather difficult to be all of them at once.

Imagine the issues I have answering that question for myself or for my curious friend. Now, try to articulate it to the entire world. That is a daunting prospect. The advantage (curse?) of Roman Catholicism is that we have one guy who the whole world looks to for what it means to be Catholic. The man with that honor (burden?) at the moment is one former-Jesuit Pope Francis. He has the unenviable job of being the whole Church to the whole world. But, at the moment, I’d say he’s doing a pretty good job of it. At a time when Tweets carry as much weight as The New York Times, Pope Francis’ simple style is the most powerful declaration of what it means to be Catholic today. His quite compassion for all people loudly proclaims to the world that being Catholic means being for one another.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Social Obligations

(Scene opens on a man, sitting alone, typing on his iPhone. You hear the tapping of the ‘keys.’) 

 MAN: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there. No. Sorry, I’ve just met you and already I’m lying. I did see you there, how could I not when you’re wearing such an…interesting outfit as that. No, I did see you there, but I’m pretending to do something important on my phone so we don’t have to do that thing where we wave to each other in the distance but then keep walking at each other. I recognize you from class. You sit three rows back, four chairs over. I think you’re really smart, which intimidates me, which is why I’m pretending to be on my phone right now. That way, when you walk by, I can pretend to glance up and smile at you. Surprised to see you. But without that awkwardness. And you can just keep walking and I can just keep sitting here and we can both feel like we’ve fulfilled out societal obligations for the day.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Commencement Exercises

Commencement season is upon us once more and so we see proud parents and anxious soon-to-be graduates flocking to campuses to listen. And reflect. And sweat. It is easy to become a bit bored during the ceremony itself: the speaker can be dull, the reading of the names takes ages, and there is never enough shade to go around. Now for a moment imagine sitting through not one, not two, but seven of said ceremonies. Where the speeches are the same and the list of names nearly endless. But the advantage of being part of the choir is that it’s acceptable for you to read or write or nap, given you wake up in time to sing the Alma Mater. To kill time, having finished the book and play I brought to entertain myself, I endeavor to attempt an age-old writing exercise. It is hard to write speeches, harder still to write good speeches, primarily because it’s not something often done. So, soaking in speeches as I am this weekend, I’ve written my own commencement address. Forgive the presumption and triteness; I am truly bored.

Congratulations graduates! I fully understand that I am standing between you and some great party, so I’ll try to be brief. You are about to be handed a great gift. It is a gift that you have worked tirelessly for these past four years. You have paid…well, more than you probably want to think about for it. You have earned your degree, but that does not make it any less of a gift. It is a precious thing that you will soon hold, not truly encompassed in that small piece of paper with a beautiful seal. It is your learning, your passion, your wisdom that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives. This experience has brought you in to an elite group that few people in history have the opportunity to enter: you are now college educated. 

Some one once told me that challenges are gifts and great challenges, great gifts. And by the same token, gifts must also be challenges. You stand before you with a great gift, so what is your challenge? You already know it; it is why you chose to come here, to this Jesuit institution. St. Ignatius challenged his Jesuits to “Go out and set the world on fire.” That is the same challenge that stands before you today, as you walk across this stage. You don’t need me to give you that challenge; it has been given to you every day for these past four years. I am merely here to remind you of your duty to be women and men for others. To take your great gift that you have strived for these many months and go out to serve the world. 

I’ve given you a quote and a challenge. I’ve made a bad joke. The only thing left to do is leave you with best wishes for you future and congratulations on all that you have achieved. 

Freshman Reflection: To Wine or Dine

#66: Drink No Wine Until It’s Time

For many people, college is their first experience with alcohol. For others, it isn’t. And as you can well imagine, when those too groups get together everyone is in for a bit of culture shock. Given that parties are fairly large part of the social scene on campus, it is important to develop a relationship with alcohol that works with who you are. Importantly, you should try to figure out this relationship early. Like, first-party early if you can manage it. The reason for this is pretty simple: you make fewer friends vomiting on someone’s carpet than you do by not. Unless you’re goal is to spend the majority of your weekend bent over, it is probably wise to figure out what you’re plan is before you leave your dorm.

Most of the best pieces of advice I’ve received this year have come, perhaps not unsurprisingly, from my Stage Management professor. He, and I’m sure many others, cautioned that you should go to the party and then leave the party. Early. Preferably before 2 a.m. if you can manage it. Because nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. This is personal call, but I have found the post-2 period can be one of the best moments of your life or one of the worst. It’s up to you.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Freshman Reflection: A Guest Lecture

Don’t listen to any of the above advice; it’s not bad, but it’s not necessarily you. Don’t let anyone tell you what your college experience should be. Be yourself and make your own way. This one doesn’t need any explaining. 

It’s a quote from a friend, solicited in the final days of the semester. I figured in the spirit of full-disclosure, it would be good to present a bit of an alternate view. As this wise friend so succinctly states, this advice isn’t necessarily you. It might very well be the exact opposite of your experience at college or even in an entirely different dimension. But regardless, even this advising against advice contains some (yep, you guessed it) pretty standard advice. You hear it a lot from people as you’re are packing up in August and you hear it endlessly once you step onto campus. Be yourself. It seems like pretty standard, even trite at this point. But things become trite because they are true. Or at least, because they sound like truth.

My dorm floor became very close, very fast at the beginning of this year. The afternoons were spent milling about in the common room. We pretended to be working, but I for one could never accomplish anything in that room. I had never been able to work around others, but I told myself that I should be social. Get to know people. Make an effort. So I went. I talked. I got to know people. I went to parties with them. I’m not sure what it is like at other colleges, but for freshmen here the first few weeks go something like this: Get together in the evening. Try to find people who know about parties. Try to find said parties (usually in groups of ten or more). Be unable to get into said parties. Repeat until despair sets in. I’m not a party person, so this particular exercise held very little appeal for me. It was not until I realized that, yes, there are in fact other ways to have fun in college, that I understood how I could have fun while still being me.

See, a nice cliché story about being yourself. By the end of first semester, most people have one of these at least. And if they don’t, by second semester the usually do. It’s always reassuring to hear stories from people you respect that align with your own experience. That why things become cliché.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Find a Doorstop

#6: Keep an Open Door

This is a great piece of advice because it works literally and metaphorically. As for the first, it might sound cheesy and it is but it is the easiest way to meet the people you live with. Leave your door open for the first few days and play some music. It gives people something to stop in and talk about. If you can bring something interesting for your room, even better. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about the huge stage light I use as a door stop or the inflatable moose head I kept around for bit. It doesn’t have to be quite as eccentric as the moose head, although Chuck was a big hit, but just a reason to talk to people. You’re going to be living with them; you might as well get to know them.

Metaphorically, it is pretty obvious how this applies to college. You’re going to be having new experiences, meeting new people, learning new things. Be open to them. It will enrich your life endlessly. This is especially true at the student activities fair every school has in the fall. Sign up for everything that interest you. I never knew I enjoyed working with education policy until I signed up with a group that did (they had a cool logo, what can I say?). But now I’ve published a policy piece with them. Life can be cool like that (okay, maybe not cool…) if you’re open to it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Who are you?

#15: Maybe You Don’t Know Who You Want to Be

If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know who you want to be. You maybe know what you want to be, but who is a pretty big question. College is often billed as a great place to figure out who you are and so far for me it has been. Every introduction is an exercise is self-definition. “Hi, I’m a History major.” “Hi, I do student theater.” “Hi, I play football.” “Hi, I’m from New York.” Consciously or not these moments merge to form a sense of self that is free from as much of your baggage as you want it to be.

That being said, college should not just be a place to find out who you are. Why? Because its an expensive and work-intensive way to find yourself. A weekend retreat or a year hitchhiking in South America could be equally effective and doesn’t come with the price tag. Granted, I can’t think of many people who go to college for this reason. It tends to be a byproduct rather than an intent.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Freshman Reflection: An Expensive Nap

#104: Go to Class!

It's important. It's why you're here. It's expensive. Going to class is the single most important thing you can do, along with homework and sleep. (Just don't let sleep interfere with class.) I missed one class first semester. It was a large lecture and I was missing it to sing at an event, so I figured I karmicly I was covered. I'd just grab the notes from someone else and that would be that. Jump forward one week: I need to buy tickets home for Thanksgiving and can't find if that particular class was cancelled or not. So I email my professor. His response, "As I mentioned in class the other day, we will not have class." Well...now me professor knows I skipped. It was embarrassing. So, in short, go to class.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Freshman Reflection: Persistence

#5: Persistence Can Take You Far

College is confusing and a lot of the people there will have no idea who you are. But you're going to want/need to get things from these people. That is often difficult given the first point. This is why persistence is important. (Also, it's important in the grand cosmic "life" sense, but we'll start with getting things.) My first-semester stint as a reporter for the school paper put me in the position of needing things. A lot. Usually a quote or an interview with some fairly senior member of the administration who didn't really have time for me. And here I learned the joy of the cold email. "Hi Dr. Important. My name is..." If you send enough of them, someone is bound to reply. And then you talk to them, remembering to ask who else you should speak with about this. Rinse and repeat as needed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Room 428

Two eyes stare out
As the sky explodes momentarily
A smile twitches and then the world goes dark
The shining beacon on the hill is all that remains
Steady red glow warding off devils and jets

Two eyes stare out
Thunder shatters the silence
Only to be overpowered by the steel snake
Making its plodding way across the field
Rain pelting its windows and hers

Two eyes stare out
at the same clouds
at the same rain
at the same world
As two eyes stare out, stare back
Torn and joined by lightning flashing
Across a sometimes shared sky

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Freshman Reflections

            They never tell you everything you need to know. This sentiment is wide-spread during finals, often directed at professors and TAs who didn’t highlight (or who did highlight and then you slept through) that one crucial piece of information on the final. In fact, this absence of surety is a hallmark of the college experience. Not sure where that obscure seminar room is. Not sure if the food at the dinning hall is fish or chicken. Not sure what you’ll be doing in four…now three years. Not sure who’ll you will be when you walk out those gates.
            As a way to combat that sense of not really knowing what the hell you’re doing, countless books have been published on college. This time last year, as a soon-to-be freshman, I picked up one or two of my own. They were informative (sometimes), funny (sometimes), but mostly they served to calm my nerves. Others had done this before and escaped relatively unscathed. Why couldn’t I? I arrived on campus a few months later, those trusty bibles packed away among my things, and promptly forgot about them. Life moved too fast those first few weeks to pick up a book, let alone one not assigned for class.
            Luckily for me, one of the books that was assigned to me for class turned out to be another ‘tips and tricks’ book, much like the ones gathering dust in my dorm room, that would help me start solving the what the hell am I doing conundrum. Entitled What They Don’t Teach You in Film School, it is a book of 161 strategies for making your own movie. Now pretend that said movie is instead your life and you will have an understanding of why this particular book is so helpful when it comes to getting your life together.
            As a way to reflect on my first year at college (wow…it’s over already…) and to hopefully share some whimsical, dare say, wisdom, I’ll be writing a series of reflection pairing life advice for freshman and filmmakers. I can make no promises about its accuracy, relevance, or usefulness. But I can promise words (and maybe even a few pictures). Make of it what you will.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Unholy Sonnet

They tell me what we prioritize speaks volumes about what we care about. I guess that leaves me with sleep first, food second, and theater and school tied for a distant third. They also say that you can do only two of three things well in college: sleep, study, or party. It seems I have chosen the first two: a major in sleep with a minor in homework. It is very rewarding, but I wonder if I should add a double-major...?

As the semester (and my first year at college!!! AHHH!!!) winds to a close, I am a bit nervous. Nervous about finals. Nervous about summer school and what I'm doing with the rest of my summer. Nervous about what I'm doing with the rest of my life. You know, your normal Tuesday. When you talk about anxiety as a dull, throbbing nervousness that never quite goes away, what they are really referring to is the last three weeks of the semester. And I cannot even begin to imagine what the seniors must be going through right now. 

Batter my heart, three-person'd God

The storm of pillows
Slaughters innocent dreamings
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new
A night, unspent restless

Forks clash with knives
As the work around the left flank
Fried chicken valiantly dying before
Vegatables uncooked and untamed

The thunderous din drowns out the cries
Of warriors celebrating a week well-fought
With papers laid to waste
They pour libations to their liberation

Batter my heart, three-person'd God

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Twenty Six

We stand mute, unmoving
On a corner in Boston
The whole world packed onto the sidewalk
Wanting to reach out
Wanting to help
Yet we remain trapped behind pixel walls
We keep looking at pictures. Trying to make it real.
But it isn't.

Yet there they go
Running on, into the fire
Those whose capacity to meet a challenge
May well be limitless.
There are still so many heroes.
Tears of joy and grief mix
For humanity torn and affirmed
In a single tragic moment

At moments like these
Words stand empty.
But love abounds

Oh God…"like these"
There can not be moments like these
We can not let them be so common place
So ordinary that they get "these"

At this moment
Words stand empty.
But love abounds

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sure on this Shinning Night

Sorry for the rather long dearth of posts recently. If you haven't guessed by now, whenever I'm working on a show everything else falls to the wayside. But, having just closed and struck Spring Awakening (which was amazing!!!!) this weekend, I can finally return to the glamorous world of actually getting my homework done. I've finished my Greek translation completely for the first time in a few weeks, written a exhibit proposal on eighteenth-century naval art, and am about to dive into some good ol' utilitarianism. Normally philosophy homework calls for Concerning Hobbits. Tonight, in celebration as it were, I've gone in search of something a bit 
different. 


 

 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fontastic

The most annoying part about using writing that I didn't intend for the internet isn't editing for content or length, but it's the stupid fonts. For the life of me I can't get one consistent font. Oh well...life could be worse.

As Spring Awakening gets closer and Tech Week starts soon, I've been wrapping up my brief stint as dramaturg. (If you don't know what that is, that's okay. Wikipedia is helpful.) The final thing I needed to do was create a brief historical introduction to the show.


            Spring Awakening was adapted from a play by the same name written by the German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1891. Wedekind (1864-1918) led a storied life, having an affair and an illegitimate child and also working in the circus. He eventually entered the theater and became known for his satirical writings and performances. He served a nine-month prison term for “assaulting the dignity of the monarch.” The play wasn’t performed until 1906 and was banned or censored for indecent and subversive subject matter. It was first staged in English in New York City in 1917, but the Commissioner of Licenses claimed that the play was pornographic. It was only allowed one performance. The musical adaptation appeared off-Broadway in 2006 and subsequently moved to Broadway where is won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It was adapted for television in 2008 and there is currently a movie adaptation being produced. Spring Awakening has been immensely popular since it’s premiere, especially among teenagers and college students.
            Taking place in a rural town in Imperial Germany during the early 1890’s, Spring Awakening is grounded in the culture of its time. School dominated the life of middle class boys during this period. The Gymnasium, a secondary school focused on the study of classical languages, was designed to prepare pupils for university entrance exams. Upon graduation they have the opportunity to apply for spaces at universities. Instruction was heavily dependent on memorization and public recitation and teachers were fully empowered to use corporal punishment in their classrooms. Secondary schools were exclusively for boys until the end of the century, when girls were granted some limited access to it. However, schools were strictly sex-segregated after elementary school.
            Any discussion of sexuality was strictly forbidden by the moral code of the day. Sex outside marriage was taboo, especially for women. The religious values of the day stressed prudence and temperance and the value of family honor. Premarital sex was considered a smear on that honor. However, it was far more common than the literature of the day let on. Because parents did not discuss such matters with their children, it was quite common for them to have to deal with a pregnancy on their own. Abortion was still illegal across Europe, so any procedures would have been performed by someone without formal medical training. The mortality rate for such procedures was very high.
             At the same time that religion was more strictly enforcing standards of morality, people were falling away from organized religion. Church attendance fell sharply and many younger people felt increasingly distant from the faith of their parents. There was a feeling that the spiritual emptiness was a new phenomenon, and as such was vilified by traditionalists and conservatives. Friedrich Nietzsche, a publically avowed atheist, wrote of this time, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lecture on Ethics

The world in silent stillness waits
As those few, those happy few
Sink deeper into pages and words
Images of things unlearned and unknown
Unthinking, they grasp lessons from the text
And scratch them onto paper.
Eyes droop closed
Only to snap back open,
The dream wasn't and you're still here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Alternative Spring Break


       I thought that, just because the news coverage had stopped months ago, everything had been cleaned up. Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast at the end of October. We arrived in New York City in late February as part of Georgetown University Hurricane Emergency Relief Efforts (GU HERE), and much of the damage still remained. We spent our days clad in white Tyvek suits, respirators, and goggles to protect ourselves from the mold building up in the houses we were working in. Mold removal is a tedious process that involves scrubbing every visible surface with a special cleaning solution.
       Spending endless hours working on a house, only to be told that we weren’t anywhere close to finishing, gave me a profound understanding for the sheer amount of work required to rebuild after a disaster like Sandy. It’s work that is likely to continue for years and that is already being forgotten.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Edison's Wisdom

The floor sits empty by 5 am. Well, almost empty. Here and there a solitary figure slumps over a desk. Some are typing, one or two are packing up, but the vast majority of them have fallen asleep. As the sun starts to filter through the south wall, these last stragglers rise and shuffle out to class. Or to a resting place a bit more comfortable than their wooden cubicle.

Around 7 or 8 the flow reverses and those who had passed a night in bed take up their posts. Coffee and muffins mingle with readings and problem sets as the carts begin to roll. Slowly a days worth of words finds its way back to the shelves. By noon both the shelves and the tables stand full. And equilibrium sets in.

Those who stumbled out early this morning return after dinner, groggy and clutching their fourth espresso of the day. They search for their usual haunts and fall into now-familiar chairs. The floor begins to buzz. The sound leaks out gradually. It first reaches the rows of wooden cells in each corner, then crawls into the stairwell. By 10 pm the whole building is filled with an inescapable hum. People battle for seats and tables and even spots on the carpet, as long as they're near an outlet. The printers spit out page after page without ceasing.


By midnight the last of the night's visitors trickle in. They search in vain for an empty place before descending to the bowels of the building. A lucky one grabs the last desk, hidden in the far corner under the flickering light no one had bothered to fix yet. As she put down her bag and began unpacking the evening, now morning's work, she noticed speck of neon green just out of view. She looked up. And she alone smiled.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

So...Lazy

A number takes the place of a moment
All that is left is to acknowledge
Only objects that stand alone

Powerless, you are carried onward by the current
Grief and sorrow mingle indiscriminately
Anguish

Heavy, weighed down by memories,
She lies, curled up with her blanket and book
A solitary figure

A man steps forward,
Knee deep in forgiveness,
And out into the sun 

Sometimes, when I want to write something but am far too lazy, I collect some lines from old pieces and stitch them together. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weekend Plans

Never wear heels. Ever. Whoever thought brick was a good idea, historic she'd heard it called, needed a good smack. The thousands of cracks sat like baited traps, waiting for anyone foolish enough to try stilettos instead of flats. She cursed the man, it had to have been a man, who made that amazingly stupid decision so many years ago. Carefully picking her way through the minefield she at last came to the house. She didn't have the address, but the flashes in the window and the music leaking onto the street were clearer than any sign. The steps were cement, thank God, and about as even as anything on this aging street. The door swung open and she leaned into the doorway, bathed in light and sound.

Without having to ask, he knew what the answer would be. He stood there, frozen, before her door, wanting to knock. His hand hung motionless in mid-air as if held by some force-field. Then he realized how ridiculous he looked and he stepped back, letting his hand fall limp by his side. She'd never say yes anyway, yeah, it's not worth asking. Having convinced himself of this, he returned to his room. Despondent, and looking forward to another weekend doomed to Stargate Atlantis, he gathered his laundry that lay strewn about the floor. He grabbed the hamper and headed to the elevator. Might as well do something productive. When the doors swung open he stepped in. The doors closed. And then opened again. She hopped in, breathless, and looked at him. She dress, her hair, her heels all said she was going out. They exchanged weak smiles and stared at the doors.

She sat behind the counter, watching the clock hands slowly march towards midnight. She hated the graveyard shift, especially tonight. Earlier she had watched waves of faces with plastic cups and fruit juice file by. She knew they'd be back tomorrow for Advil and water. But for the moment she envied them. As the little hand crossed ten her phone lit up. And now the texts begin. Where are you? Wanna go out? I know this great party tonight. Can I borrow that one black dress? This was the worst part. Every week she let them know she couldn't go out tonight, that they should have fun, but please don't text her. And every week, after drink three or four most of them forgot.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wanderland


There are moments when everything you put on paper grates your soul. And you know it’s absolute crap. Something inside you impels you to string letters and thoughts together and then that same thing graciously informs you that you can’t keep any of it. And you go back and forth and crumple used-up pages, tossing them on the floor. Except you’re writing on a computer now so you don’t even get the satisfaction of doing that. You hit delete and stare again at that mocking blankness.

You try again, hiding this time behind the safe, anonymous pronouns. No identity. No latent associations. Just him and her. It, them, us, we, they. You wish you could be brave and put your story down. Shout from atop a stage that this is me. But you can’t, won’t. You are buried deep within the verse. You build up walls around yourself. They shatter and fall, but the rubble burying you serves just as well. No light gets in and you remain.

Writing is hard work. Life is harder. Don’t worry. The punch still tastes just as good.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Maybe I Should Try Coffee...?

A million people stare at you
As you stand naked, bathed in light, surrounded by darkness
Move, they shout, dance, sing, laugh, cry
Live

Well not actually a million...
More like twenty
And you're not actually naked
Although the boxers are feeling awfully small just now
And they aren't shouting. Or even talking.
The silence seems somehow worse though.

They want you to create mist
Not with a fog machine or even a paintbrush
But with yourself.
How do you do that?! What does that mean?
But you try anyway.

Your world narrows to the three walls,
Stained with the writing of years past
They bear messages barely worth reading
The view is stunning: whitewashed wall
And aged carpet, never cleaned.
You ask why you're sitting here, now?
No answer appears.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Germany in 30 Seconds

Leader: Kaiser William II

Politics: Germany only became a country in 1871, when the German Empire was proclaimed. Previous to unification it was a collection of small principalities and cities, dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire, lead by the Hapsburg family. Prussia, under Otto von Bismark fought a series wars between 1864 and 1871 to unify Germany under Prussian control. From 1871 until the establishment of the Wiemar Republic at the end of WWI Germany will be dominated by military powers and the aristocratic landowners.


A new sense of German nationalism is also growing during this time. It is grounded in several ideas. The first is that this German Empire is the continuation of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose federation of central European states during the Middle Ages. Thus it is the Second Reich (Empire). German nationalism is also strongly anti-Semitic. It is also rooted in a long-standing distaste for the French.


Religion: Northern Germany is dominated by Lutherans, while the south is predominantly Catholic. There is small Jewish population concentrated in the major cities. This is the period of “Victorian Christianity” with a focus on proper appearance and etiquette, but lacking the deep religious convictions of earlier times. All kinds of sexuality, but especially homosexuality, are often violently repressed.  It is at this time that the philosopher Frederich Nietzsche declares, “God is dead.” If you can think of the worst time to be a teenager exploring their sexuality, it’s this period.

* An exercise in dramaturgy: the art of cramming an entire unit of AP Euro knowledge into a one-page summary so actors can better understand the context of the show without having to do hours of research on their own. Bonus points if you can figure out what musical this selection is for.