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.

(gape)

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?"
Him:"Alright."
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

Subculture

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

Apologies

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:

"I LOVE DANCING!!!!!"

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?