Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Survey

An old, old tradition of mine. Like... since 2005 old.

What did you do in 2011 that you've never done before? 
Danced in finals at MIT.
Danced silver.
Bought a car.
Got a real job and even raised my own salary!
Acted like an introvert.
Drove from GA to PA by myself.
Graduated from college (!!!).
Frequented a bar (salsa nights!).
Legit job.

Did you keep your New Year's resolution and will you make one for this year? 
I made no resolution.
2012: Just do it. Stop waiting.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Becky Watlington, Christy Martsolf, Amanda Tingle, Adele Cole, Alysia Watkins.

Did anyone close to you die?

Did anyone close to you get hitched?
Sarah and Matt Martin
Arden and Mary

What countries did you visit? 
This question pains me.

What date(s) from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory?
MIT Weekend
First week in March (a vague, blurred, but deeply etched time)

What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Have a legit answer to "what countries did you visit?".

What's your biggest achievement this year? 
My undergraduate Honors Thesis.
1st Semester Out of College intact (mostly)
Being there for my siblings as best as I could.
Elements Apprenticeship.
Word Parties.

Biggest failure?
Belief that I was constantly failing.
Not telling the truth. Or not telling it soon enough.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
First ER trip of my life and morphine dose. Hello Kidney Stone.
Wisdom Teeth: The Gourd Face

What was the last thing you bought?
Wide legged dance pants. I'm aiming to become a Westie.

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Gretchen. Jennifer. Isaac.

Where did most of your money go?
Food, rent, car, dance.

What did you really get excited about? 
Ballroom 24/7.
Thesis writing.
Working with Calvary Elements.
Whim Cotty.

What song will remind you of 2011?
"We Found Love in a Hopeless Place"
"Stand By Me" and other various constantly replayed salsa night favorites.
The entirety of "Recovery" by Jeremy Casella, especially, "Born Again". In fact, let's just go ahead and say that "Recovery" as the album of the year in my life from March on.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? 
A stupid question. Emotions are not measurable in this dichotomy.
In my own scale, I feel what it is to have seen what one is so afraid of seeing.
And somehow becoming more rooted than before.
Grateful. Not because I am happy, but because... well... because I'm not alone.

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Speaking my mind.
Going to poetry readings.

What do you wish you'd done less of?
Being afraid.
Those two go hand in hand.

What was your favorite TV show?
Downton Abbey
Bachelor/Bachelorette (it was all about the community, ya know?)

What were the best books you read? 
"Walking on Water" by L'Engle
"Body", collection of essays
Essays by Annie Dillard.
The essay genre in general was a new Love.

What was your best musical discovery?
Mumford&Sons, driving through a gold summer Lancaster sunset.

What did you want and got? 
Ballroom weekends off of work
A trip to Boston with Fraleigh and Sara to see Vaughn
Samba improvements

What movies did you see in cinema? 
Final Harry Potter (while on oxycodone so I don't remember much)
War Horse

What did you do on your birthday? How old did you turn?
The day of was pretty quiet. A few weeks later, I celebrated quietly with Fraleigh and Sara over carrot cake and champagne.

What one thing would have made this year more satisfying? 
The one thing I wanted, have wanted, will always want, but am learning to accept may never be given.
Learning to accept it and myself and life sooner. 
Learning to be patient with the process of "growing up".

How would you describe your personal fashion?
From the "cannot be bothered" to the extravagent. Eg. safety-pined shoe straps to Ray Rose dance shoes.

What kept you sane?
James and Sam.
Elements planning.
Isaiah over and over and over.
Salsa nights.
Julia Kasdorf.

Who was the best new person you met?
Vaughn Morgan. A wise counselor, friend. "A lot a bit". "Boys are stupid. Girls are crazy."
Mae (not technically "new", but we became friends this year).
Nicolle Maurer.
Steve Cline, adopted little bro.

What was a valuable lesson you've learned?
-Be patient, little one, be patient. You'll grow up as fast as you can. No sense being angry at yourself while you're trying really hard to do what is good and life giving.
-Trying very hard to "be right" is a prison; "the law", as the Bible calls it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Missed Words

I came into "Christmas Break" armed with books. I also came into the Christmas Break, ie the most distractible time of the year. But last week on a retreat day, I found a list in the journal belonging to early 2011, a list of books I would read in order to complete a proper education; books I had missed in undergrad.

There were even a few blog posts about it here. I included things like "Lolita" and "Ulysses" and anything by Faulkner and...

Until two weeks ago when I made a last second decision to pick up "Lolita" from the library, I had read none of them. [Slight exaggeration. I did read "Notes from the Underground"]

If you haven't noticed, there is a list on the right hand side of this page where I'm supposed to keep you updated on what I've been reading. I don't think its changed in a while.

So this Christmas, I'm starting to make the small journey towards the literature no one made me touch in college. I have "The Basic Writings of Existentialism"[owned for years] and "Lolita" [talked about for years]. Neither are very "Christmas Spirit"-y but my annual re-read of "A Christmas Carol" could perhaps make up for that.

PS. Would anyone in the State College region be interested in participating in the IAM Readers Guild with me this year?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Changes a Brewin' in Whim Cotty Walls

Things are changing piece by piece this week in Whim Cotty. A suddenly empty wall opens up. I stop in the bathroom, unsettled because something has changed. Ah yes, the grim "CLEAN YOUR TEETH" poster that reflects menacingly in our vanity mirror has been removed. I had stopped the same way when it first appeared, held up with masking tape this last August. It took several days to find the culprit: Avery's artistic choice to put it up. Her moving out to take it down.

It's been an adventure having 5 roommates this semester. Perhaps I don't want to say "adventure". I say "adventure" when I'm trying to make a comedic tale out of something I didn't quite enjoy. And I did enjoy having 5 roommates. Not just housemates. Roommates. In case you didn't know, Whim Cotty boasts of 1 bedroom that was formerly the living room/dinning room. All of 5 of us lived in various corners of that space. It kind of surprises me now that I'm thinking about it. It shouldn't have work. Somedays it didn't. But most of the time, I enjoyed the strangeness. I grew very comfortable with sleeping to the sound of a fan running every night.

Whim Cotty is not the typical apartment shape. If it were, none of the choices we made this semester would have turned out as well as they did. It is the first floor of an older stone home in the Holmes/Foster district of State College. We live in a bizarre
 shape. The middle line is the first hallway. The long left of the E is the hallway that runs the length of the house and contains the "i room" and the bathroom. The top line is the kitchen and old bedroom that we use as a living room. The bottom line is the old dinning room and living room, which is the bedroom for 5. Soon to be 3.

Avery is moving out due to graduation and the onset of what we Valley Dwellers like to refer to in hushed tones as "real life". Jocelyn, by living in the madness that is/was our home, discovered that she is a very strong introvert. She loves us and we love her, but she needs a room with a door. It was a valuable insight to gain, one that the strange shape and sounds of Whim Cotty was able to give.

This set up has taught me a lot about space and how we each use it and what we need it to be doing. Yes, static walls can be active shapers of interactions and relationships. Each of us has taken up a corner and made it our own. There was something about our personalities in each of these spaces. Nicolle seemed to take to the long couch in the living room and could be found there doing work at any hour. Jocelyn was the same but only when she has the option to close the door and be there alone. Before it was cold, she used the back porch quite a bit [it isn't heated]. Avery was always in the i room, particularly on the white chair. Mel would wander, rarely settling to do work unless it was reading before bed but choosing places where she could talk and interact, often the kitchen. And me? I chose as I have chosen since I was a high school student, my bed. I put my beloved desk right up next to it and spent hours in the back corner, the farthest away from all of the action that I could. I never minded another person in the room as long as I could find a place where, on occasion, people wouldn't talk to me. I use the bed as a couch, chair, table, etc. I nap, I read, I watch movies, etc.

It's fascinating to think how the walls and size of a room and the amount of light it gets helps to determine what is a room is and how it is used. It is fascinating to think about how personalities shape the way that a space is used. And I love Whim Cotty. Not everyone in our house has loved it the same way. I am in love with its quirks and traits, the way the bathroom door gets stuck, the eerie sound of the basement, the shape of the living room and the chair that gets the light in the winter afternoons, our bizarre tile pattern in the kitchen. It's a good place with good wood floors and a good feel to it.

As Anjali said last night with her inaugural visit: "I can see why you call it 'Whim Cotty' now. It's a perfect name."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Masked and Dangerous

I had begun to understand Erica Reitz's plight in her first trimester. I had begun to know the knee jerk reaction of gagging and choking at the strange smell that sometimes hit me in my apartment. The smell had become a legitimate problem: when the fridge door opened, a smell would drift out and quietly murk its way down the hallway and into the bedrooms. It travelled a long distance and would stay for several minutes after the unoffending fridge intruder had closed the door again.

By last night, I had had enough.

I pulled out a box of "not wearing right now" clothes and found my old bandanas. I wrapped one around my face and with Melanie and Nicolle for back up, I went in.

Even with protection from the bandana, it was a gruesome affair. I viciously sentenced many jars and bags to an untimely death in the trash can. I scrubbed all the walls with clorox. All items were removed and placed back in only if they could pass a smell test. Nicolle handed me paper towels. Mel helped organize things I had chucked behind me.

And still the smell persisted.

The decision to throw away almost all items in tupperware containers was the decision that changed the game.

Black beans, it would seem, do not keep well.

The smell as the lid was removed was catastrophic. I fell over and tried not to breathe through my nose. I yelled, "Get it out!" and Nicolle ran with the bag to the door and out to the dumpster. I felt the need to cheer and celebrate.

"A small miracle has happened: I was just motivated to do housework!" I said.

The moral of the story: don't wait for a smell in the fridge to gain feet and wander around your house before you viciously end its life with the trashcan and clorox.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wisdom of the Day

Just saw Erica Reitz in Irvings. After my first "grown up and employed" Christmas party last night, I've been feeling pretty angsty about maturity and responsibility and what that does to the ability of a group of people to throw a good party.

So I tell Erica all of this and then I start feeling guilty for having been the awkward person at the "grown up and employed" Christmas party.

Her response: "You can't have an emotion about an emotion. Makes everything way too confusing."

...astounded stare...

Why didn't anyone tell me this sooner?!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Other Posts, This is Not

Several more posts about "space" in the works.

But today, I'm just watching some improv west coast swing.


Or this one from a classy sister/brother duo.

Seriously. Just enjoy this. They are amazing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Missing Space

I'm feeling Webster's absence very keenly today. Some days are worse than others. I woke up this morning and was again one of the first ones out of bed (it was 8:30am). With the late night, late morning life style of 5 college cultured women sharing one room, it can be hard to buck the system. Mornings are difficult. At night, I can clothes a few doors and turn off the lights and go to sleep. No one messes with lights after they've been turned on. The "right to sleep" is a communally upheld privilege. And it works this way in the mornings where the lights might not come on in the bedrooms or even the kitchen until fairly late.

On a day like today, wet and grey, "getting things done" is nearly impossible.

So I left. I packed up and moved locations, as I have been saying I should do ever since my part time job ended. I walked down Beaver with the hopes of getting one of the few tables in Saints that doesn't involve perching in a high stool at a teeny tiny table with minimal elbow room between you and your neighbor.

There was no such table.

Hence, missing Websters. My chosen spot of a Panera Booth isn't the worst place to be. There are lights, the sounds of people working and talking. Plenty of space to spread my books and pens and computer. But it isn't a Place like Websters was. Panera feels created to be neither "here" nor "there", a reproduced feeling that I get in some Starbucks, airports, and hospitals. Neutrality+Color Scheme Branding makes me feel rather disconnected.

Hence, missing Websters. I miss how itself Websters was. It wasn't trying to be like something else. It just was. It was easier to sit and work and drink tea and listen to people in a space that was grounded. I didn't know about this kind of affect a place/space could have until Websters disappeared.

I plan on taking up permanent morning residence there when it reopens in January!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Therapy

I had two conversations that comforted me greatly yesterday.

#1 Standing outside of the Osmond building chatting with a friend. He asks how my Thanksgiving was. I reply honestly: it sucked. Why? he asks. I explain. His reply: "Aww! That was my Thanksgiving last year. I am so sorry!" He gave me a hug and we both laughed because bad holidays are... well, you kind of have to laugh. And laughing with someone else makes it better.

#2 Standing in Henderson lounge for the start of Elements [the weekly gathering I help orchestrate for my job]. Talking with a friend who hadn't come in a while. 
Me: "How was your Thanksgiving?"
Me:"That doesn't sound good."
Him:"I'm just glad to be back."
Short pause. "Me too."
He smiled for the first time. "Seriously?"
We laughed and high-fived, celebrating that we weren't the only ones who left, as he said, "A messy can of worms". My heart grew lighter. Knowing that his Thanksgiving was also rough enabled me to laugh.

So for those of you who had a crappy holiday break, the best I can do for you is this: you are not alone. Own the crappiness. Laugh at it, laugh with me at its absurdities and difficulties. Celebrate that all bad days end.

It's totally okay.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Some L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle in "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art":

"For the opposite of sin is faith and never virtue, and we live in a world that believes self-control can make us virtuous. But that's not how it works... To quote H.A. Williams again,

When I attempt to make myself virtuous, the me I can thus organize and discipline is no more than the me of which I am aware And it is precisely the equation of my total self with this one small part of it which is the root cause of all sin. This is the fundamental mistake often made in exhortations to repentance and amendment. They attempt to confirm me in my lack of faith by getting me to organize the self I know against the self I do not know.

"In prayer, in the creative process, these two parts of ourselves, the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious mind, stop fighting each other and collaborate. Theophan the Recluse advised those who came to him for counsel to 'pray with the mind in the heart,' and surly this is how the artist works. When mind and heart work together, they know each other as two people who love each other know; and as the love of two people is a gift, a totally unmerited, incomprehensible gift, so is the union of the mind and heart. David cried out to God, 'Unite my heart to fear thy name.' It is my prayer too.

"When I urge that we abandon our rigid self-control I am not suggesting that we abandon ourselves into hysteria or licentiousness, uninhibited temper tantrums or self-indulgence. Anything but. However, when we try to control our lives totally with the self we think we know, 'the result is that growth in self-awareness is inhibited.' And, Williams continues, 'there is a sort of devilish perversity in this organizing me not to sin by means of the very thing which ensures that I shall. Faith, on the other hand, consists in the awareness that I am more than I know." Such awareness came to the prodigal when he realized he was more than a starving swineherd. What led him home was his becoming aware that he was also his father's son. Yet his awareness of the sonship was enough to make him journey homewards.

"The journey homewards. Coming home. That's what it's all about. The journey to the coming of the kingdom. That's probably the chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist--the purpose of the work, be it story or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us more aware of our status as  children of God, and to turn our feet toward home."

pages 192-194

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Penn State and Greek Theatre

My professor, Judith McKelvey, was the first to hand me Euripides and make me read him. "Antigone" and most of Sophocles I was familiar with if only through cultural osmosis. "The Bacchae"? Not so much. And certainly, the "Lysistrata" never appeared in an assignment in my high school, homeschool courses.

"The Bacchae" is a sordid, appalling tragedy with dark humor shot through it. It is infused with a divine madness, especially well communicated in Suzan-Lori Park's translation. Dionysus, a young god, wrecks havoc in the name of vengeance on a city in Greece because of an old grievance. But he does this by calling out the folly of the people there and they begin to destroy themselves. Leaders who look the other way when it is time to repent and pay a devastating price for it.

Judy McKelvey always argued that the Greek comedies were ultimately darker than the tragedies. A comedy was ultimately more hopeless because nothing changes. In a tragedy, there is the classic moment of "recognition" where hubris is broken and the world is changed beyond repair. But there is also a conclusion that will prevent any such thing happening again: the event is witnessed in full and we are in the power to not repeat the mistakes.

In a comedy, the goal is to return to normal. To not change. For the world to get cynically turned on its head and watch humanity stay exactly as it was. It is a hopeless genre.


I had been thinking of "The Bacchae" the night that Joe Pa was fired. I thought of the the Bacchinalian madness, and the way the media seemed to tear everything in its path. I thought of the group frenzy of anger against the firing, the group thinking that happened before he was even fired. I thought of the "riot"[that wasn't much of a riot] and the many that came to "see what was happening".

Penn State is not a direct reflection of Euripides "The Bacchae". We aren't dealing with allegory.

We are dealing with some human darkness that the comedic mockery Euripides employed hits true.

I thought perhaps it was a stretch to see Greek Comedy appearing in campus events. And then on Sunday night as I drove over the last mountain and down into Nittany Valley, my radio picked up 91.5, WPSU, our local NPR station. And this was being played: WPSU Panel discussion. It was an interesting and thoughtful conversation. But near the end, Michael Berube shared a conversation he had had with a colleague. He had offered Sophocles as the poet/playwright of the hour. But then his colleague said, "No. I think Euripides is our playwright." The master playwright of the dark comedy and the mockery steeped tragedy.


I hope not. I hope to goodness that we have not been exposed to the world for exactly what we are if we are to stay the same. I hope this is not Euripides, but I fear that we have already embodied his narrative too completely to come out of it with anything other than the ancient leaders limping blindly into exile.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Today, Dad, Isaac, Gretchen, and I went on a hike in Mt. Gretna. Perhaps "hike" is too vigorous a word for our short walk to the fire tower and short walk back down. An any case, we dressed as if we were going for a real hike. We were surprised to find the area swarming with people: Mt. Gretna is anything but a teeming metropolis. As we started to take the walk up the hill, we started regularly seeing runners hurtling down the trail towards us. They would never make eye contact. They each carried some kind of piece of paper. Sometimes, we would see them making their way through the woods rather than following the trail. Most of them were wearing some kind of running gear and a handy heart rate monitor watch on their wrists.

Now, I've had exposure to cross country racing. Hannah did it with Lower Dauphin in high school (first ever home schooled team captain in the county). I get running a set distance through the woods.

But that doesn't typically result in universal blood loss.

Here's the thing: every person who passed us was bleeding. Some had blood coming through their shirts. Most has blood on their faces from visible or hidden scratches. One person had it dribbling out of the corner of his mouth.

I have no idea what they were doing but I was more than a little disturbed. I go for a walk the woods and spandex clad sprinters fly past me covered in blood.

Currently, no internet research has revealed to me what subculture I was suddenly exposed to.

But then again, if someone walked into a ballroom competition, would we seem any stranger wearing heels and sequins to dance in a rectangular space than someone running down a trail with blood on their lip?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Re-Telling the Story: Grieving the PSU Sex Abuse Scandal

I've opened this window to write a post many times in the last week.

I've left it blank every time. Because I know that the only thing I'm going to be able to write about is the sex abuse scandal.

Writers often talk about how writing is a way to process. To heal. To understand. To move forward. To make something out of chaos.

I don't know if others do this too, but sometimes when I am most intensely gripped by emotion, I stop writing. I can predict how difficult a time in my life was by the month long gaps in the dates that appear in my journal. And if I do write, its about what I ate or an assignment or something not related to how my insides are coming apart.

An hour ago, I came home to Whim Cotty after my first visit to New Leaf Initiative on Fraser Street. Steve Lutz had called a Meeting of the Minds to start thinking of ways to make something in response to the scandal [I'm looking for a new name to call it but don't have anything else quite yet]. Two students, two campus ministers, myself (psu alum, writer, campus ministry apprentice), and a young adults minister with the input of one of the New Leaf members: sitting around a table trying to make something.

It was one of the most hopeful things I've experienced in the past week. I have no idea what this conversation is going to turn into, but we're starting to collect local resources, doing some research, and thinking about these words:

shame, silence, story

We're asking what it means to be part of re-telling the story of this past week, of these past few decades. We can't undo what has been done. But perhaps we be part of finding out how the meaning of those events can change. The story isn't over yet.


What you just read above isn't the post I've had in me to write, the one I've kept myself from writing for a week. Being at New Leaf tonight was the kick in the pants I needed.

Because my response to the past week was not hopeful. My response was...

anger, fatigue, dismissal, denial, distancing, horror, sadness, numbness, interest, boredom, pissed off, stunned, unaware, over aware, defensive, humbled, betrayed etc.

I was grieving. Am grieving.

And I wanted to tell you about it. But I wasn't sure what I was grieving. I wanted to give some commentary on the whole thing, but there were so many voices yelling that I didn't know what to say. If you could only have seen the facebook status updates that I have seen this week (I have 478 psu students and alums in my fb feed, not to mention the others who are connected to the school in some way), or read the tweets flying from both media sources and student sources. 

Part of what I want to do is explain. I feel a desperate need to defend Penn State from the outside voices. We call the school we graduate from as "Alma Mater" for a reason. You can complain about your mother all you want, but when someone unrelated comes along and starts bashing her to your face... well, that doesn't sit so well. I've wanted to do some bashing in of a few people at various points.

Perhaps this explaining can come later. I think there is a place for me to tell you the story of my week in detail, to let you in on the sociological processes that happened in the nation, the community, and the campus. To explain about riot culture in the Valley. To explain and defend the trauma of being here when Joe Pa was fired. To explain and let you see what it was here. To show you how attacked many students felt.

But not this post.

I just need to tell you that its been a long week and a half for me, ranging from the moment I first heard the news from an NPR tweet Sunday morning before my dance competition, to today as I cried in an Elements leadership meeting, to the surreal moment of sitting with a friend who had been abused as a child after the candlelight vigil on Friday.

I'm struggling in three ways: I'm grieving for a place that I love very much, one that I have known both as a student and now as a Townie. And secondly, I'm grieving for the crimes against children and for the unjust world that let those acts be unpunished. And thirdly, I'm grieving the ways I am part of all of this. This is my home, my family name, if you will. I have to own it and I don't like it.


Strange as it may sound, my hope is that I don't move on from this soon. I want this to change everything. It will have to change slowly, "like yeast working through the whole loaf of dough." There is a chance for light here. I'm grateful to be in this place now, in the position of a campus minister, at the table with others longing for the Kingdom to come, "on earth as it is in heaven."

And I know this too: it is wrong that it had to come to this for everything to change.

Friday, November 04, 2011


If you saw the comments on the previous post, I apologize. I have no idea who that person is and I certainly have nothing to do with their claims of being a prophet. Spam comments: not a fan.

Thinking Dance

I've written about ballroom dancing before on this blog. It became an essay that appeared in the The Curator last March and also was one of my favorite pieces in my undergrad thesis.

I'm not done thinking about dancing or what its been for me in the last two years. I've resisted writing about it on here for fear of boring you or resorting to a short post that consists of large capped letters and many explanation points like this:


Not so good on the blogging front.

However, I've been thinking quite a bit about dancing this week as James (dance partner) and I head into DC Dancesport Inferno, or DCDI. It was our first ever ballroom competition last November and we're excited to return and enjoy the hyped up atmosphere of over 800 couples competing in two days. We're two levels higher than we were a year ago. I have a new dance shirt to go with my flowy black skirt. Basically, I'm pumped.

All of this has had me thinking on the role that dancing has played in my life since spring 2010 when I took the intro course at Penn State. I had done some small dancing before but never in such a consistent, community based way.

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that something that gives me such joy was given during the hardest, darkest semester of college and continued to be given to me through the next, difficult year. Dance has, to sum it up, been a "good gift". In the book of Matthew (chp 7), Jesus says this:

7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I know this is very much about how when we seek God, He gives us Himself as the true good gift. But I have not escaped this thought this week: dancing was a good gift to me.

People dance for different reasons. James and I are very different in what gets us jazzed about being in class and on the dance floor. We've compared notes before but something he said this week while we had "dance partner social hour" making grilled cheese and tomato soup, highlighted the differences. He's very technical. He likes the details and the rules. He likes meeting those rules. it feels liberating to do something physical and accomplish a requirement through that work. For him, dance has been a good gift while working in a major he intensely dislikes and involves primarily work in front of a computer. And this bent of his towards the technical accomplishments possible in international ballroom style makes us better than I would certainly be alone.

I'm not like this. I think and talk about musicality more than any other aspect. I want the dancing to come from the music. James hates trying to "perform", especially in standard. He hates trying to look calm and chill for a waltz. I find it easy. I just listen to the music and let it do its emotive work on me. It's the process of music coming into the body like a spirit and working it like a beautiful puppet that fascinates me. Technique is only as good as it allows me to express that spirit more accurately, more beautifully. The creative process, the playing, the making up: that excites me more than anything. And this is why I love social dancing so much and why, after I leave State College [hypothetical situation. No certain plans], I will likely pick up more salsa and west coast. They involve more play and creativity with the music and your partner. But even in international ballroom styles, there is this element of channeling and performing that has been good for me.

We both agreed on this: all the mess of life comes out in ballroom. It's a place to let go, a place to safely express anger about life but aiming it directly at our stupid samba hips. A gift.

I could talk more about the different ways people interact with dance and the different creative thinking that goes into it. I probably will eventually since I'm interested in the very fractured dancing worlds at PSU, where the salsa people are pitted against the swing people who are vehemently pitted against the west coast swing people who really don't care as much about something as technical as a snappy, good tango. Or a vwaltz, heaven forbid.

But I won't. For now, I leave for this weekend in Maryland holding onto this thought: gratitude. I am grateful, almost painfully so, for the gift that ballroom has been for me in dark times. It was a gift. How could I ever treat it as if I earned the right to be there?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weathering the Gourd Face

Tuesday, I had four wisdom teeth removed.

The doctor said it "went well" and I should be "up and ready to be off pain meds by Friday."


It's Friday and my face has only grown increasingly in size. Mostly on the left side. It's all out of proportion. It got to the point where I was so distressed that I grew nauseous whenever I saw my face in the mirror.

Needless to say, I've been avoiding the bathroom. And other reflective surfaces.

I look something similar to these vegetables:

Mostly the one on the right. Hannah posted on facebook: "I can be your friend/ if your face is puffed or yellow/ we can have fun/ I'll share my jelloooo!"

However, I've found some solid things that are helping me get through the messiness.

  • My dad. Pretty much a clutch decision to come home rather than get the teeth removed in SC. He's been amazing. Getting me food, making pancakes and milkshakes, waking up at 3am to deal with me crying, waking up at 3am to make sure I take my antibiotics, taking me to the dentist right at 8am to get prescriptions, etc.
  • Sleeping upright.
  • Pain meds. As I said in the midst of the kidney stone, I am no stoic when it comes to pain.
  • Card games dictated by Isaac's crazy rules.
  • Netflix: Monk, Lark Rise to Candleford, Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, and more.
  • Ballroom videos. Not of me. Mostly of Seth and Ali, Diego and Cherry, and Vaughn and Laura. They get my mind off of myself with the greatest ease.
  • It's hard to read on pain meds. Nothing makes sense. But dad has read outloud to me which was helpful. I've liked that.
  • Naps. Lots and lots of naps.

Monday, October 17, 2011


No one teaches you how to grieve. But we learn anyway. We learn what to do by watching, what to do to help things heal faster or better.

No one learns grief very well.


My friend Kelly lost her horse last Friday. It was injured and had to be put down. She came over to my house on Sunday. She was cried out, dry-eyed. I gave her potted flowers and a tuna fish sandwich for lunch. She said, "It's funny how I don't really feel like eating anymore but I still feel better after I eat. I didn't know I needed to." She did cry when she told me the story. I cried too.

See, the horse was not just a horse. It was her best friend. This occupation and interest and friendship started when she was 12 and saw her through the worst of her parent's divorce. When she lost Oakie, it was like that pain was somehow no longer bearable anymore. It could possibly even be like loosing parents again.

She's a teacher and felt like she couldn't call off work. "No one would understand me calling off for a horse."

We have too small an understanding of grief. We don't have a way to allow it in each other if it seems absurd to call off work for something like this. Instead, life is forced to mush on. Divorce, break ups, stage of life changes, friendships ending: they don't count as family emergencies. How does one explain to a professor that a paper was late because you spent the week in turmoil over your significant other and broke up with him at midnight that night before? Is that an excuse? Can that be accepted? Is that someone trying to get out of necessary work?


Loss comes in many forms, not only death. The process of grieving those things makes no sense to me.

People seem really unstable in grief. It comes in circles like getting stuck in a long wave heading towards shore. You feel fine when things are at their worst. You feel like hell in your whole body and scream and weep when the most insignificant and unrelated thing goes wrong. You feel fine when you should be upset and you are upset when you should be fine. No one can see it coming and neither can you. It comes and goes. You think you are done and then you aren't.

Some things, I would imagine, are never quite done being grieved.

How is it supposed to be done, the loss of the intangibles, the things for which no one gets a day off? May I wear black for 40 days in memory of my parent's marriage? But no one even wears black anymore after someone's death. May I wear sackcloth and ashes? Someone would call me depressed. But would it have been better for me to tear my hair out and wail over this loss than to hold it tightly as if holding vinegar and baking soda with my hands in a fragile porcelain vase?

Marriages don't get funerals. I almost wish they did.


But then, there is an upside to this. Life keeps going. Perhaps this is a grace. There are things like horses still to be tended, stalls to be mucked, jobs to do. It can't end yet. For me, I still need to show up to dance class and work out my helplessness by controlling my body to music. It keeps going and carries us with it.

 I wish life would give more space to the weary and broken hearted. I wish we were better at saying something, at bringing food, at carrying each other through grief and not assuming that somehow, someway, that person who is grieving the death of something that never died will somehow make it alone.

But I wish there was something, sackcloth and ashes, Job scrapping pottery over his broken skin, anything to physically mark the change, to enact the death.

How else am I supposed to find life on the other side?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Four is Company

I've had several posts in the works (several once again inspired by Anjali). Instead, I feel compelled to update you on my status: tired, caffeine deprived, waiting in the Philly airport for a flight to Dallas, TX. I'm heading there with my two staff leaders Steve Lutz and Erica Reitz AND Stac Sublett (pastor for Midtown Gathering at Calvary). It's a thing called "Leadership Network" for two days of brainstorming and planning with 30 other college ministers. Should be cool.

I'm enjoying travelling in a group. Having done the whole Fly Alone thing, I find the pleasure of having someone to watch my bag while I get breakfast and chat with as we go. It's been highly entertaining as well. What do campus ministers talk about when travelling in a group? Apparently, the primary conversation starter is "What would you do if the world as we knew it came to an end?" (ala Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King). Hysterical. Oh and who would act as us if someone made a movie about our staff team.

Really nothing else interesting to add. It's an airport. Lots of good dancing space and no one to dance with. Oh, and I had soup for breakfast. Sweet and spicy pumpkin soup with a baguette. Excellent. I don't know why I've never had soup for breakfast before!

Yours Truly,

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Burrowes Wandering

Tuesdays are caffeine days. It became this way six weeks ago with the first Monday Night Elements Gathering that I helped make happen. Lots of conversations, a bit overwhelmed: Dana doesn't go to sleep right away. Tuesdays are the days I drag myself out of bed in a fog, use two earl grey tea bags in a very large mug of hot water, and complain in slurred speech to my co-worker Dave about the heat/cold and the repetitiveness that are excel sheets. This is what happens when I can't sleep till well past midnight but have to get up at 7:30 anyway.

I'm finding ways to make Tuesdays bearable. Two weeks ago, LaVerne (boss and editor for Hemingway Letters) took us on a mandatory jaunt to MacKinnons for Starbucks coffee. It helped. Last week I played upbeat music and listened to sermons. This week, I took what LaVerne calls the "Scholar Walking Break". My hands were cold though (no heat inside, no heat outside), so I stayed indoors and wandered Burrowes Building with a book in hand.

Reading while walking gives a unique perspective. I got to watch people and offices out of the corner of my eye. I look up every half sentence to see where I am about to step. And in Burrowes, that is important because the stairs are a labyrinth.

Today was the first time I've been above the second floor. I've never been required to. I don't think I realized that there were floors above the level I can see when I enter the second floor from the main hallway. My professor visits were always in the basement or somewhere close by. Never the 3rd of 4th floors. It is a different world up there. The smaller departments are housed in high up corners of the building. First observation: lots of languages being spoken. Grad students, professors, and students are conversing not in English. And the way the offices are decorated are a lot less "I am attempting to look like a studious English major" and more like "I travel a lot and that's really cool." There is also a feel that fewer people end up in those hallways if they don't live there, making conversation in hallways and through open office doors more feasible and comfortable. Down in the lower levels I frequent, doors are shut to keep students from constantly stopping in with the question "Do you know where Professor so-and-so's office is?" And no one marks the fliers departmental grad student jokes with black sharpie.

I'm thinking I've found a consistent way to survive Tuesday mornings.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


My legs ached and shook quite miserably after latin workshops with Tal and Vlada today. I've decided once and for all that while I can enjoy parts of latin, my favorite part is when samba is over. But I digress from my story. Pat, a friendly acquaintance from salsa nights and who is in adv 1, walked out to his bike the same time I went to get mine. As we rode off in the same direction, we soon discovered (about the point of Atherton Hall) that we live within a street of each other.

And then it began to rain.

At first it was a light rain and didn't bother our cycling at all or our conversation. Within a few brief moments, the skies opened as they are wont to do in State College, and we were soaked. He yelled, "Let's go!" and we took off as fast as we could up the  campus sidewalk along College. But it was no use. We weren't going to make it before everything was drenched, bags, clothes, shoes, and all. He was in dress clothes and dress shoes. My chacos have lost their tread and also served little use in trying to peddle.

And then everything just seemed as comic and joyful as it could be. I was laughing, refreshed from the cool air and rain, blinking hard so I could see, yelling at pedestrians that I was coming behind them. I was utterly happy in that unwanted, unlooked for rainstorm. It was the feeling of play; like being small again and finding the most banal things delightful to repeat again and again.

Playing in the rain with a friend was a marvelous gift.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bilbo's (and Frodo's) Birthday Celebration

We threw a grand party in honor of Bilbo and Frodo last night.

Homemade carrot cake (my aunt's recipe) with homemade cream cheese icing. Very fall. Very hobbity.

Party Planner and architect extraordinaire stringing lights over the fence and party tree. Nicolle Mauer did the writing for the incredibly lovely birthday sign.

Candles lit on the front porch. Lord of the Rings on hand for a reading.

Group singing of "Happy Birthday". All the candles we had were lit on the carrot cake (36).