Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My grandpa died today
And I don't know what to say

Monday, September 24, 2007

My family brought me lots of nice things when they came to visit me.

Capris, shoes, mechanical pencils, a contraband rice cooker that makes superb oatmeal- so, so wonderful.

Unfortunately, they also brought me a cold. Well, not all of them; I think Rachel bears the responsibility for this one. It started with the slightest catch in my throat last night as I went to bed. I got up to get a drink of water, hoping I was just thirsty. But when I woke up this morning, the catch was still there. Throughout the morning it progressed to a tickle, and into the afternoon, a scratch. By the end of my library shift I knew I was unequivocably afflicted.

After I got off at four, I dashed off to the Wellness Center, which closes at four, before the Point Weekly meeting, which starts at four. It's a good thing time is so flexible. I'd discovered earlier in the day that the Wellness Center gives out free medication. Overjoyed, I stuffed the decongestants and lozenges the obliging nurse gave me into my purse.

I'm still operating at maybe 85-90%. My nose is not yet stuffed, nor have I the cold's achy malaise. I know it's coming; it's inevitable. I have to give the Scotland speech tomorrow in Communication, but maybe it won't have hit me full blast by then. Whenever it comes, at least I'll have the Wellness Center's bounty to augment my suffering.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Free with the price of tuition.

Point Loma hosts concerts throughout the year that are free to students, while the public has to pay admission. I went to a classical piano recital last Friday, and last night I attended Jazz at the Point. Both were absolutely stunning.

The Point Loma Jazz Band opened with a couple of purely instrumental pieces and them some with an accompanying singer. I especially appreciated the saxophone solo. Then, out came the Frank Potenza Trio, consisting of guitar, organ, and drums, with guest flutist Holly Hoffmann.

They played altogether, and they played intricately, dynamically, compellingly. I know so little about music and what well-played instruments sound like, but what I heard was for me amazing. My fellow concert-goers, some girls from my hall who play the harp and the flute, were just as satisfied, so I can only assume the performers were top-knotch.

They themselves seemed to be enjoying it. Frank whispered something to Holly in between songs, and she shook her head, laughing. She said, "He wants us to play this as fast as we can play it." Frank added, "There's fast, there's really fast, and there's faster than humanly possible." The drum player exclaimed, "Now would be a good time to pray!"

I thought he was exaggerating, but when they came to the drum solo, I realized what he was talking about. He beat so quickly, his arms blurred. I was positively mesmerized.

The group then grouped themselves into varying duos. I loved the drums and the flute together. It was so different, so fresh. The other arrangements all seemed to be associated with previous eras- the twenties or the thirties or the forties or fifties, paying homage to bygone times. But this felt like now, an expression consummately present.

It was a release, a mental cleansing. I just sat and listened. There was nothing I had to do, no one I had to please, no standards to achieve or grades to receive. I just sat and listened. The experience is an excellent venue for thinking.

Music is so ephemeral, so evanescent. Once played, the notes are lost forever. But hints of the elegance, the euphonic euphoria, yet remain.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Here's the link to my Point Weekly piece.

Kitchen Closed

My original headline was, "What if you can stand the heat?" But that was too long for the allotted space.

A lot of people have told me they read it, including one complete stranger. Pretty exciting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This is what my schedule currently looks like, if you're interested.

Click to enlarge. This means, among other things, I really can't make or receive phone calls during these times, so if you try to get a hold of me then, I'm sorry if I don't pick up. It's full, to be sure, but my evenings and weekends are largely free, so I like it on the whole.

It's a good thing my weekend was so great, because the last few days have been less so.

Well, they weren't terrible. They were just a lot of work. Monday was actually rather pleasant. It was officially Constitution Day, so the school held a forum on abortion. Professors of ethics and political science discussed the complex social and moral implications surrounding the issue. Of course, no one came out and gave an unequivocal opinion (I'm beginning to sense a trend here), so I went up to the most liberal-sounding panelist afterwards and asked, in response to her previous explanation of the law's limit in relation to the viability of the fetus, "If we do achieve viability from the point of conception, would that make abortion impossible?"

She said she found the concept disturbing, that we could essentially grow a child without a mother, but acknowledged that the possibility is increasing, especially in light of current reproductive developments- in vitro, of course, but also surrogacy, and more recently, outsourcing the entire process. She explained that the legislation is constantly trying to keep up with technology, for now there are potentially five participants in the creation of a child: the egg donor, the sperm donor, the surrogate mother, and the adoptive parents. Who has the legal right to the child? That we legally perceive these children as property creates a moral quandary which we have no choice but to muddle through the best that we can. We're basically trying to straddle the line between parenting as legally transferable ownership at one extreme and eugenics at the abortion-on-demand other. She made a case for the general altruism of women, saying very few pregnancies are aborted. Her answer, if I'm interpreting it correctly, is to support abortion on a limited level in the hopes that we don't make parenting compulsory nor view children as property. I don't know if I understand her entirely. I don't see how killing children protects them, or our concept of them. I wish I could have talked to her longer.

Tuesday wasn't quite so thought-provoking. Old Testament is becoming a drag. The professor's view of scripture and biblical interpretation contradicts much of how I've always conceived the Bible to be. That would be fine, except I cannot accept his view as intellectually valid. It doesn't seem logical to approach the Bible academically, as an ancient text as fallible as any other manuscript, and then say that it is a work through which we can discover what God would like to say to us. Why the Bible over any other religiously oriented book? I asked him and he told me it was a "faith leap." This does not jive.

In Psych my professor dropped two two-page essays on us, due Thursday. In Communications I met with my Scotland group-mates and discussed our presentation. In Psych Convocation I read Herodotus for World Civ as my Old Testament professor guest-spoke on much of what he's been going over in our class. After that, it was straight to the library until 6 pm. I grabbed dinner, then headed back to my dorm. I really wanted to attend the string bass concert at 7:30, especially since I had enjoyed Friday's piano recital so much, but instead I did homework. Until 10. And I still wasn't finished.

My roommate's alarm went off at 5 am for some cursed reason, and so I dozed only sporadically until 7:30 am. I sat through another boring installment of Spanish, a less tedious chapel, and a fun World Civ class. This last one is my favorite of all the classes I'm taking. I like dealing with ideas, broad historical ideologies. I like my professor. I like my classmates. It's pretty great.

Afterward I rushed to my first Microfinance meeting, the group I previously volunteered to assist with editing. It actually sounds like an excellent cause. Microfinance is basically investing in developing countries with a "double bottom-line": not only profits, but the well-being of those being invested in as well. I think it'll be fun to help them out.

Then it was a brisk walk back to my dorm for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pretzels, and yet another brisk walk to the library. I dashed off as much homework as I could during my shift. From 2:30 to 5 I did laundry and yet more homework. Then I ate dinner, filled up my coffee thermos, and headed back to the library. I finally slogged through the rest of the homework that's due tomorrow, took a shower on my break, and now here I am, in the time I've got left before midnight comes, free to chronicle all the terribly interesting things I do.

Monday, September 17, 2007

(Insert witty remark about how good things come in threes.)

I went sailing with my World Civ professor.

Two of my classmates and I joined Professor Kennedy on his sailboat out along the Point. It was beautiful! We spent all of Sunday afternoon trolling around the harbor and enjoying our luck in living in a place so astonishing.

Alistair wrote back to me.

Which brought my Scotland intercultural project primary source interview number up to three, thus fulfilling my quota and taking a large load off my shoulders. That this nice Scot whom I randomly e-mailed after finding his blog was incredibly well-written and full of information just made me all the more happier.

I was published in The Point Weekly.

Yep, they ran it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

All I want is a straight answer.

On Tuesday, for Intro to Psych (which is essentially half the freshman class), we gathered in the ampitheatre here on campus. The speaker, a sociology professor, had us calculate various social categorizations assigned a point value- add 10 points if you're white, add 10 points if your parents own their home, subtract 10 points if your name sounds ethnic, add 20 points if you went to a private school or were homeschooled, etc. Then, he ranked us according to our final scores. The highest scores sat in the front rows, the middles in the middle, and the lowest in the back. He wanted to show us that criteria we have no control over determines what sorts of obstacles we will face in becoming successful. I was in the highest rank.

We had some audience discussion about how it felt to be thusly categorized, but we mostly left feeling unsatisfied. Or, at least, I did. The professor, Dr. Gates, had e-mailed us links to studies before class. One study sent out similar resumes with white-sounding and black-sounding names, and found that the former, at a rate of 10.06%, got more callbacks than the latter, at 6.70%. Now, I understand statistics. Of course there is a correlation there, but the difference is not insurmountable. Besides, people are not statistics, and the individual, supposedly less-endowed person might well succeed without any more obstacles than someone statistically privileged. However, Dr. Gates did not seem so convinced, telling us that we don't have as much power to "write our own stories" as we think; the book was largely written before we were even born. Of course, he concluded with the obligatory we-need-to-do-all-we-can-even-the-playing-field, but he did not seem wholly confident that this will ever happen.

Last night, Thursday, my friend and I attended "Brewed Awakening," a monthly forum designed to spark discourse about current issues of social import. Dr. Gates once again presided, this time introducing another professor, leader of a Quaker fellowship which supports an "undocumented immigrant," Marco, who also spoke.

Marco told the packed room about coming over from Mexico as a young child and then growing up undocumented, unable to get a driver's license, passed over for scholarships because he lacked a Social Security number, wiggling his way into SDSU and his jobs. He punctuated his story with "I'm not a bad person" and "That little four-year-old didn't know he was breaking the law."

They opened the floor for questions afterward. The Quaker leader and Dr. Gates both insisted the goal of the night was to "put a face on the immigration issue." They deflected pointed inquiries with "We all need to educate ourselves about this issue" and other such commonplaces. I was dying to get a straight answer out of them.

No one ever said illegal immigrants weren't people. But articulate Marco, senior class president, SDSU graphic design student, has as much worth as a person as any stereotypical functionally illiterate gang member on the street. Where do we draw the line? It's one thing to denounce the system as corrupt; it's quite another to advocate a plan to fix it. Marco, or others like him, as his case is pending in court, regularly break laws as they drive their cars, attend school at residents' tuition, and just live here. At what point are we above the law? When we feel like it? Should we ignore laws that we feel aren't just solely because we feel thusly?

I didn't want to come off as the unconvinced conservative that I pretty much am, so I couched my question in as liberal of terms as I could conceive: "So what social ideal should we aim for? Completely open borders? Wh-wh-what (I stutter when I'm nervous) would this look like in a perfect world?"

I can't do them the justice of word-for-word quotation, but their responses were something along the lines of: the country has a right to regulate its borders, but as we have free trade of capital, goods, and labor with Canada and Mexico, we should not neglect the latter. It's a complex issue with a lot of people's lives involved, and we as the church need to be the sanctuary that cares for the orphans, widows, and strangers, especially this last one, in our midst.

And that was it. I nodded resignedly as I realized they had no more direct answers than I did. Dr. Gates closed the session in a benediction to us to "remember our baptism" by acknowledging our allegiance is to our faith before our country or our families. I left with a fair-trade coffee buzz and a lot more I'd like to have asked.

I got mail!

From Paula and Camp Maranatha. I check my box fairly often, as there is usually an envelope peeking out the window, but as we share boxes, it's just as often addressed to Jenny Barram. It was super nice to spin the little combination knob and see my name, written in familiar handwriting, no less. And not only a note, but a Starbucks gift card too! Thanks so much!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Getting my foot in the door.

So a couple of weeks ago I very bravely asserted myself and asked the Point Weekly's copy editor if I could assist her. She enthusiastically accepted my offer. So last Sunday I hung around the newsroom and proofread whatever they handed me, delighting in the journalisty banter and increasing slap-happiness that grew as the night went on, glad to be even a little part of the newspaper's staff. At midnight, my curfew, I fairly pranced back to the dorm like a blither Cinderella, content with the knowledge that I could spend every Sunday night that way should I wish to.

The next day, at the weekly newspaper meeting, I volunteered to write a piece for the opinion page. I don't know if they'll publish it, but it felt really good to write it. It follows thusly:

What if you can stand the heat?

By Kaitlin Barr

It was going to be so delicious. Stocked with the groceries my gracious parents had left me and a custom recipe culled from the Internet, I journeyed up the five floors from my dorm room to Nease’s box to retrieve the keys to the community kitchen. As I climbed the last set of stairs, I contemplated the virtues of a warm, homemade dinner.

The box was empty.

Dismayed, I returned to my room. It was too late to go to the Caf. Instead of savoring egg drop soup and mango tea, I forlornly crunched dry Top Ramen.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been stymied in my meal-making. I’d brought a container of steel-cut oats with me to college after I found out Nease had a kitchen, fully expecting to be able to enjoy my favorite breakfast every morning. However, I’ve discovered that I can only gain access when an RA is in the box- after 2 pm on weekdays, and not until 7 pm on weekends. Pots and pans and the like have to be checked out by filling out a form.

This means the kitchen sits idle most of the time, unassailably locked up. Nease residents can’t make breakfast or lunch, and can only occasionally make dinner. And why? Because it’s assumed whoever uses it will leave a mess.

We’re all old enough to clean up after ourselves. As long as we keep the kitchen maintained at a reasonable level of cleanliness, can’t we keep it available? I have my own cooking utensils; it’s fair to require us to provide such. But the kitchen approaches the bathroom in importance. Regulating the use of the former is almost as bad as doing the same to the latter.

I’d like to appeal to the RDs of Nease: Allow us full-time use of the kitchen. Crock pots and hot plates are contraband; microwaves just don’t suffice sometimes. As responsible adults paying to live here, we should have full access to the facilities provided.

Keep the pots and pans locked up if you must. But please leave the kitchen open.

Quick - split-second decision time:

You're walking down a flight of stairs as a group of girls comes up. One comments, "I like your shoes" as she passes you. The shoes you're wearing are not spectacular, though they have been poisitively remarked on before. Is she talking to you or one of her friends? Was that eye contact or a mere glance? How would she feel if she directed the compliment to you and you failed to acknowledge it? Which is worse- claiming an unjustified compliment or ignoring an intended one? You need to process these thoughts and decide on a plan of action before descending one more step. You manage, "Thanks!" in as non-committal a tone as possible.

Bzzzzz. Wrong answer. You hear "She wasn't talking to you!" as you traipse down the hallway.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

As I was sitting in Calvary Chapel Point Loma today, I realized why I like it.

They're not fixated on growth. The bulletin contained no building plans, no exhortation to donation, no carnivally events with "Invite a friend!" pleas tacked on. They meet in an Adventist church, yet they haven't spoken once of finding their own facility in the three weeks I've attended. They seem content with ministering to the body they have in the most effective ways they can- from Bible studies, baptisms, and family missions trips, to coffee with pastries and fruit after service. No desperate need to legitimize themselves through numbers. So refreshing.

I just coast down Catalina to get there (and work my glutes up Catalina to get back). One greeter remembered my name from last week, and the college study leader's wife insisted I call her any time for a ride to their group. The church isn't perfect, not that any are, and I'm not in love with it yet, but from our short acquaintance, I do like it.

In other news, my Scotland study partners and I visited our country's cottage in Balboa Park's International Cottages collection. Unfortunately, no qualifying Scots were to be found- apparently what native members there were died, and, as Scotland's economy and standard of living is as good as ours, no one's immigrating here anymore, so only second-generationers are yet carrying the cottage flag.

Still, we got pictures of the place to use as visual aids for our presentation. Oh, and we had a neat conversation with a very German architect visiting with his distantly Scottish wife. He told us about how he had renovated an 1820s-era Scottish-inspired house in Vermont for her, gutting out the foundation and constructing an entirely new cellar. Before they left, he asked me if I were Scottish, and when I admitted to it, he said, "I could tell. Look at that Scottish blush!" As I turned redder, he told me, "Never lose it." I found our last name in some of the books in the cottage, delighting in the legitimation. One book said it could be traced to Ayrshire in the 16th century, and another defined it as denoting the apex of things, the "summit" or "cream." I really enjoyed that. I hope we get the "barr" of grades on this Scotland project.

Friday, September 7, 2007

It's a fairly universal feeling around here.

As soon as you get out of class, or get off work in my case, on a Friday, you get the overwhelming urge to do something. Something fun and exciting, something not school-related. It's Friday night and the last thing you want to be doing is sitting in the caf eating the same thing you had for lunch. So I was hanging out with the girls in my hall, and my RA announced, "Let's go to Pastabilities!" I readily acquiesced, and some of the others did the same.

But then, as so often happens, other things came up, other urges came up, and plans were quickly eradicated. As they vacillated between doing this and going there, I walked across the hall to visit some more girls. One was busily typing on her laptop. She explained that her dad was only giving her $15 a month for clothing, and she was looking for the right words to convince him of his folly.

"I know I sound spoiled, but that would only get me a tank top at Abercrombie Kids," she said.
"I need at least $80."

"Yeah," I replied, "But multiply that over the next eight months- that's $640."

"Right, that's reasonable."

Her roommate chimed in. "Oh yeah, that's not very much for eight months."

I sat there thinking of all the ways I'd spend $640 if I had it allotted to me as the first girl continued on her dilemma. Apparently she was only getting $10 a month for haircuts.

The thing is, she's a really sweet girl. Both of them are. They let me tag along with them all the time, and they're a lot of fun. But how differently we see things.

The going-out-to-dinner thing panned out in a way that didn't feasibly include me, so I headed off to the dining hall, filled up on a burger, hummus, tomato basil soup, and ice cream, and caught the off-campus shuttle.

I got off at the Fashion Valley Mall. I spent less than $20 at Old Navy on a pair of capris and two turtlenecks, and I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty about starving children in poor countries.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Twenty flat.

I picked up a few more hours in the library, putting me at the Point Loma work study recommended limit of 20 hours a week. Huzzah!

Last night I wrote a paper, edited another, and formatted a third, then printed them all out for (shhh...the best-kept secret of this job) free on the circulation desk computer. I also drank coffee, researched Scotland, and read various assigned passages from my classes.

Today I was browsing the shelves and restacking when Jane Eyre's American Daughters caught my eye. I stopped and gave it a once-over, mildly but not overwhelmingly interested. But then I looked up and glanced the surrounding titles, and discovered The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Now, Charlotte and Emily, yes, they're given; no self-respecting library would neglect to house at least Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. But Anne, the lesser-known younger sister, is often tragically absent. I was fortunate to find a copy of Agnes Grey last year, but when I searched the Riverside County Library System then, not a single branch, of the dozens it encompasses, carried a copy of The Tenant.

But Point Loma has it. I love this place. Now, if only I had time to read...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The fathomless blank eye that stares at me bothers me most when it is alive.

My roommate bought a television yesterday. It made me sad. With no computers, no microwaves, no telephone, I thought we were going to live in blissful, techless quiet forever, or at least until the end of the semester.

There's no way I could have stopped her. She's so accommodating and unassuming, that to object on such tenuous grounds as my aesthetic well-being would be unconscionable.

I truly, truly, despise the television, perhaps more than I do the telephone. The telephone is obviously, obnoxiously intrusive and anathema to face-to-face conversation, but the television is more tricky, more sneakily nefarious. Watching it, whether it be a show or a movie or a video game, in a group bears the pretence of genuine interaction. But the screen demands your eyes and your mind, try though you may to resist it. It sucks the energy and the attention in the room towards itself and whatever drivel is flickering over its face. Just last night, I was hanging out with some girls from my hall and their friends as they played Guitar Hero. Imagine sitting and staring as other people pressed buttons to simulate actual instrumentation. Not listening to someone actually play a guitar, mind you. It was all but impossible to engage in a conversation of more than two sentences as long as the electronic rock and flashing colors pulsated.

So this morning my roommate woke up and said, "All right! We can watch the news now!" As Matt Lauer pretended to interview Bill Clinton, I gazed forlornly at my silent radio and yearned for NPR.