Friday, January 28, 2011

Onward State AND Collegian?

I sent in a letter about STS to Onward State and Collegian. Some interesting "this won't make a difference" responses. I'm glad to have these thoughts read more widely, though!

 Onward State Student Blog:

and The Collegian today:

Kalliope Submission Call: February 1st Deadline

Kalliope, Penn State's undergraduate literary magazine is still accepting submissions, including artwork, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction until the February 1st deadline.  And it's easy because all submissions are electronic.  To submit or for more information visit our site at Remember even writing and artwork previously featured in another publication are allowed.  Kalliope is also hoping to feature original student artwork at its end of the year release party where a copy of our 2011 edition can be picked up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Science Technology and Society

Two days ago, I learned from Onward State (Penn State's news blog) that the STS department will be cut due to budget concerns in the coming year. Since then, I've learned that this was a "top down" decision. The department was informed without warning. Perhaps this is how academia works. The Faculty Senate still needs to approve the decision. Since STS is a relatively small department with a lower student enrollment, I can't see them deciding against the decision.

In addition to being an English major, I have been working on a Disability studies minor since Fall 2009, my junior year. This minor is a recent addition to the STS department and is co-directed through the English department. This interest began when I was forced against my will and better judgement into an honors seminar called "The Body: Disability and Enhancement" under Dr. Squier. What this had to do with English, I wasn't sure and I wasn't pleased at the grim look of "The Normal and the Pathological" by Canguilhem or the fact that it was going to be in class for three hours every Wednesday morning at 9 (gross!). But without any recourse, I began to suffer through. And the world turned upside down.

I don't know how I had made it so far without thinking about the implications of brokenness on academics and life. The belief in a universal broken  (fallen) is key to my worldview and beliefs. It should have informed everything. But it hadn't. It took a class in the philosophy and social history of disability in Western tradition for me to begin understanding the world I had missed. What astonished me most about this course was the vast influence our studies had on a range of academic disciplines and culture. A graphic novel. A film from the 50s. A philosophy text. A memoir. Theory. New York Science Times on Tuesdays. Assumptions of what it meant to be "well" and "ill", to be "able" or "disabled", to be "young" or "old", started to become tenuous words and ideas. I was forced to question where I had gotten them and their unquestioned validity. By what authority have I never questioned the constant social pressure for a super-healthy body? The marketing of drugs? The unspoken, unseen discrimination against the disabled? The framework of medical/moral/social implications behind each answer to these questions also pushed my assumptions in unexpected and new directions.

Since, I have taken courses through the minor program and interacted in a variety of ways with the STS program, studying in courses from philosophy to rehabilitation services and English courses. These professors came from both within and without of the department. This experience shows just the kind of diverse resources that STS both provides and brings together. For example, Dr. Silverman has been an instructor in STS and in philosophy, while her own research has been on autism and its social effects and now in rural sociology. Dr. Squier, who I can attest as being one of the most influential professors in my college career, also instructs in English and women studies.

STS also has a unique international commitment. Their studies are not meant or designed to stay within the classroom. When I went to India this summer, not only were several members of our team from this department, but I have sense been given the opportunity to explore my interactions with health, illness, and disability across cultures through an independent study. 

What I see in this is a commitment and belief in academics as it affects a whole life and not simply a mind game to play in order to get a degree. They are interested in just what the humanities claims to applaud and strive for: a way to understand and celebrate the human. Knowledge is not fragmented into specialized fields but the full academic study that engages the world through specific study. Life is not lived in a classroom. Knowledge and frameworks have long reaching impacts on both our own lives and the structure of our worlds. The practical and the theoretical are not antithetical to each other but are both necessary for a life of integrity, both thought and action.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

It was my first true "syllabus" week. The last first day. The last first week. Penn State coming to a close with a rolicking finish, I would say. Still several months to go before that time, of course.

First weeks always last an eternity. Then they pick up speed and whip past till suddenly the heavy cream and butter they handed you in syllabus form has turned to cream and its tea time and then the sun has set and its time to go to bed and start over.

But for now, we're getting a slow but good start. Far fewer credits this semester which I'm loving so far, leaving time for writing tutoring, extension articles, and many ballroom hours.

At some point I will also begin my thesis in earnest. I've started. Just not in earnest yet.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Desire for Music

I have declared a resolution. Or resolved a resolution. What verb does one do in making (ooo... maybe that is the word I want) a resolution?

The resolution is this:

I need a musical education.

As such, I am taking suggestions on music I Need To Know. Based on composer, song, album, time period, region, quirkiness, etc. Provide now or at any other point in 2011.

 I am also attempting to learn a new way of listening to music. Not only background noise. Not only filler for time. But something worth being attentive to.

While sitting at the Eagleson kitchen table, a place where good ideas must inevitably occur and be shared, we discussed the benefits of doing and learning things that we are bad at understanding and doing. Not only is it good to plan "fun" things to do, but it is also important to learn a wide range of things that I will never be very good at. Hannah Eagleson mentioned ballet was her project for a semester. Someone mentioned knitting. "It's really grounding. Keeps you out of your head and in the world and reminds you that you are totally limited."

Despite the fact that I spent many years at the piano bench,  I never invested much in learning how to appreciate music. I don't listen for variety and pleasure. In fact, I think I may be a rather bad listener. I haven't touched the piano in a while.

Listening to music may be just the thing. And playing the piano that will soon be in our living room!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Two Thousand and Ten: A November Year

As the weather turned us toward November, I felt as if I had spent twelve months in its company. Chelsea and I took a short trip to Millbrook Marsh on a warmer day and spent some time quietly watching the trees and the fish in the creeks from the walkways. Things we couldn't see in summer were clear: fish resting in shade, a beaver or muskrat on the edge of the creek, the shapes of trees, the sound of wind in the grasses making snapping music. It was all dead but it had a beauty we admired all the same.

But of course it wasn't dead. It was, and is, only waiting for the earth to change directions to start growing again.

New Years Eve, I sat with friends eating french fries, watching football games, and talking about the past and the coming year. Present year, as it would now be on January 3rd. We talked of highlights and of hopes, of things learned and the universal uneasiness that graduation in May brings whenever we mention it.

The Rocky Mountains at Dusk (by August Huckabee)
Staff Retreat in Denver, Colorado: It feels like it existed in a world and time of its own, disconnected from before and after. I was overwhelmed with the intense joy at seeing everyone. The final worship night gave me the hymns that I listened to over and over again as the November year grew colder.

Cara, Jessi, Greer, and I before skiing (by August Huckabee)

Encounter 10: My first time exploring New York on my own. First time riding the subway. First time among such artists and thinkers and movers and shakers. The most empowering and long influencing days of the year.

The fountains on Allen Street for Arts Fest
Arts Fest, July 7: It stands as the example of what the entirety of my summer in State College was, and it happened in memory of our friends Jessi and Eric. Good food. Good friends. A frisbee game. Sleeping outside. Playing in the fountains on Allen Street. Dancing to the blue grass in our wet clothes. A massage train. Late night conversation in the Plex. The clearest freedom and joy in being alive, in being together. I don't any pictures of the summer, sadly.
Jillian, my summer roommate. Cue Flight of the Concords song "Friends".

HOINA Honors College Trip: I learned what it was to leave the familiar and come back. That leaving can be clarifying, both pleasant and unpleasant; "wipes the fog off of the windshield" as Mark said.
Kabidi Kabidi

Patty's Place: It was as wonderful living with Maggie and Sarah as I thought it would be. Cooking and baking and music and poetry.

Words: This stands in for the writing I was able to do this year, much of it coming in the nights I thought I would be able to do anything in the world but write another word. Some awful short stories; ghastly essays; poems that weren't even close to poetry. And a few pages that I'm proud of and take pleasure in rereading. And books that guided and encouraged and got some read-aloud time with Maggie: "Jagged With Love" by Susannah Childress, "After" by Jane Hirschfield, "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk, "Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan, "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevsky. And professors and mentors that also taught and challenged and changed my writing: Julia Kasdorf, thesis adviser and poetry professor extraordinaire; Ruth Mendum, fellowships adviser; Charlotte Holmes, fiction professor; Elizabeth Kadetsky, fiction and (not sure what else she could be called) professor; peer readers Rebecca Ebstein, Chris Cascio, Mae Sevick, and Jesse Cramer who listened to me panic; and Erica Reitz, campus minister.

Two Noteworthies:
Barb Baldner, discipler, mentor with whom I met every week.
Barb teaches me her great baking skills, as well as her wisdom!

At the Navigators Barn Dance, Fall 2010
And Hannah Ray, coolest PSU sister in the world. I'm so lucky she chose to be a Nittany Lion too!

James and I at Big Apple Dance Competition
Ballroom: From day 1 of ballroom last January, I was hooked. I knew I would be. I'm now a hopeless addict. Many thanks to Jolene for not only putting her all into teaching us, but in opening up her life to us as well. And to James Christy for being a wonderful and delightful partner, who makes me far better than I am otherwise... and take longer strides!

  • Watch more movies.
  • Be a better music listener.
  • Get out of the country again.
  • Decide what to do "next".
  • See Soli Deo Gloria (S.D.G.) take off at Penn State with more Word Parties, Art Making Nights, Film Discussions, and real conversations about what matters most.


 There are many highlights from the year. When I said them New Years Eve, Evan Rothey noted that it must have been a really good year to have so many highlights. And it was, now that I look at it. But it was November. I learned that life without the color of growth and warmth can still be true life. I learned to take joy and sorrow in stride and at once. As the writer of Ecclesiastes noted, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him" (7:14, esv). Joy and sorrow were all wrapped up together, coming at once and in the same event, or hard on eachother's heals. Neither is, in this life, a permanent state. Neither have I known the greatest joys or the hardest sorrows.

 It is good to keep the knowledge and memory of both in every moment. That is contentment.

The year changed with us standing on Old Main steps. Some smoked cigars and we wished the passing policeman a Happy New Year and he to us. I danced a few rounds of waltz and tango across the patio. We looked out at the world from the steps of our Alma Mater, looking at a year where we will all graduate and find something else to do, somewhere else to live. I don't know if any of us really understood that until the New Year. Maybe we don't still. Maybe it will hit us later.

The earth is going to change directions soon, and the November year will give way to whatever is coming next.

Maggie's First Day of School

In honor of Maggie's first day of student teaching, I post a list of descriptions we wrote together about an October night sky. I did this once with Dominique at Beach Project about the moon and the ocean. Sometimes writing with another person is just better.

The back of a turtle shell under water.

A dappled horse.

A field of cotton.

A spilled bag of cotton balls.

Herd of moving buffulo.

Blood cells under microscope.

Rain falling in slow motion.

Mud and water on the top of a swamp.

Wind moving across the surface of water.

Skin on a moving snake.

The feel of a bean bag.

Uncooked rice, falling.

Snow- wind blown, melted, and blown again.

Crocheted baby blanket.

Lethargic sheep.

The exodus from Egypt.

How would you describe a sky?