Tuesday, September 30, 2008

29 September 2008.

The nice thing about attending events under the guise of a journalist is that it gives me a purpose to be there. I don't feel like I'm wasting time, because I'm getting something done, and I have a way to occupy myself while I'm there. It forces me to pay attention, which is helpful because I swear my attention span is shorter than it used to be. I have to view the event as a story, and I have to write things down and get reactions, and it just becomes a very enriching experience all around.

I had actually read about this play in the Union-Tribune a few weeks ago, and was really interested. Then, a group from PLNU decided to go, which meant I had company and transportation. I felt super fortunate; I've been to more plays in the last two weeks (two) than I went to all last year (one). Plays appeal to me in so many ways. Good actors suck you in and engage with you far better than a movie or television show could ever hope to. The dynamic immediacy of the stage demands the attention of all your faculties. Unlike the critical eye and sometimes envy with which I read literature, I have no pretensions of acting, so I'm able to sit back and fully be a member of the audience.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On things going swimmingly.

Last Saturday I went with some friends to the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. Student discount! I'm a big fan of jellyfish when they're behind six inches of Plexiglas.

I'm a big fan of moray eels, too. When my dad and I got scuba certified for my 12th birthday, we did our final dive out by those little islands you can see from campus on really, really clear days. There were seals everywhere, mouthing the bubbles that rose from our exhalations. As I studiously avoided the sea urchins that seemed to point their spindles from every crack and crevice, I spotted a moray eel and forgot to breathe for a second, despite my careful training. That distinctive grin and knowing look is unparalleled.

I just liked this one. I love how blue Ashley's eyes are.

Here's the entire group. I don't know how I ended up being the shortest person. The day was Steph's idea (on my left). Kudos to getting a bunch of college kids to do something.

I left with a strong desire to go snorkeling before the weather turns. But I think it might be harder to get a group of people to actually go in the water.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The best thing that's ever happened to me, part II.

So there was this guy who lived during the 1600-1700s named Cotton Mather. He played an important role in the development of our country, Salem witch trials, etc. Well, the professor whose book I edited last year is transcribing volume 8 of Mather's largest unpublished work, the Biblia Americana, and he asked me to copy edit it.

Apparently Mather was incredibly prolific, publishing more than 200 books during his lifetime, The Biblia Americana, or American Bible, is more than 4400 pages long. My professor is working through John and Acts. He's actually quite the expert; he's flying to Germany next month to present a paper on the guy at the Tubingen School. No one has ever ventured to publish this massive commentary until now; the Massachusetts Historical Society assembled this project.

So I have a CD of photographs of the original documents and a freshly printed manuscript. Freshly printed manuscript. Mmmm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

22 September 2008.

There were so much potential for wordplay in this story: pie and Pi Sigma Alpha, apple pie being American and also being served at a discussion of the Constitution, etc. This headline was the best I had come up with by 1 a.m, and I still feel like I didn't take full advantage of the opportunity.

I liked this headline better, though I don't know how I feel about the review as a whole. I have a hard time evaluating this sort of thing objectively, because it always involves a compromise of tone. I have to moderate my comments to fit a broader audience, and so I'm never completely enthusiastic about the result. This time I still managed to include what I was really thinking, though, and I'm glad I did. Writing forces you to take a position and then substantiate it. I love it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The elephant in the room that I always see, even if no one else does.

I go to college, so I know a lot of people who are in relationships, or who have been recently. I spent some time recently trying to figure out what some of these people think about dating, and quickly wore out my welcome with questioning (I thought I was just being annoying, but thanks to philosophy class, I found out I'm merely a practitioner of the Socratic method). Why date in college? We're all too immature to go about it properly, and in this culture, we're really on the whole too young to get married. We need to be learning and networking and developing independent identities.

And then someone asked me why I thought there was only one right way to go about it. And I didn't have an answer. Maybe there isn't one. Well, almost certainly there isn't one. When is there ever only one right way to go about things? Maybe I just need to replace all those "we"s with "I"s and the let the rest of the world do their own thing. Sorry, Spinoza.

And then someone handed me a book while I was waiting in the newspaper office for edits. And I found someone else who didn't have an answer. What he did have, though, were some painfully accurate observations. The book was a collection of essays, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman.
[W]henever I meet dynamic, nonretarded Americans, I notice that they all seem to share a single unifying characteristic: the inability to experience the kind of mind-blowing, transcendent romantic relationship they perceive to be a normal part of living. And someone needs to take the fall for this.
He lays the blame, not unreasonably, on John Cusack. Really just indicting irrational romances in general, Klosterman's contention goes back at least to Madame Bovary.
This is why I will never be satisfied by a woman, and this is why the kind of woman I tend to find attractive will never be satisfied by me. We will both measure our relationship against the prospect of fake love.
Later, he discusses feminist literary criticism, concluding that the truly damaging stories aren't the ones that promote a "latent social code."
We don't need to worry about people unconsciously "absorbing" archaic secret messages when they're six years old; we need to worry about all the entertaining messages people are consciously accepting when they're twenty-six. They're the ones that get us, because they're the ones that we try to turn into life.
Well, I'm not twenty-six yet. Good thing I'm thinking about this now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's unfortunate that we only talk about people when they're dead, but I can't think of a better system. Birthdays, maybe?

Prominent author David Foster Wallace committed suicide last week, so his life and work have been all over the place for the past few days. I came across a commencement address he gave in 2005 that has so many beautiful things in it that I want to quote it all.

[E]verything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
. . .
There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. . . . The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
The full text can be found here. (Just ignore the fact that they misspelled "memoriam." It's Latin; give them a break)

Friday, September 19, 2008

"It is human nature to want to exchange ideas, and I believe that, at bottom, every artist wants no more than to tell the world what he has to say."

I came across a collection of M.C. Escher's work the other day and couldn't help flipping through it. Escher delighted me to no end when I was younger. I definitely checked out books of his art just to look at them. The absurd realism, the ability to create a sense of water or reflection with a pencil—it was all just so wonderful.

Escher said he wanted his work to "testify that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in a chaos without norms."

I was struck by a photograph of Escher and his wife. He looks so familiar, I thought. Then, a few pages later, I realized, he was the man in the glass ball.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Making dollars and cents make sense.

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, and the California state budget is almost resolved—Monday headlines that would have gone well with my article. So it's not as timely as I'd envisioned it would be, but that's the nature of a weekly paper. Besides, I'd bet a lot of it is probably still news to a lot of people on campus.

The first thing I saw when I picked up this issue in the morning was "environamentally." I left at 1 a.m., and that photo caption was the only thing that hadn't been written yet. I feel like I should have been there, but I just can't stay up that late. It's all right. I'm over it.

I was actually really pleased with how this one turned out. The professor I talked to was incredibly helpful. It was worth writing the article just to have him break down the country's financial situation for me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cute kids.

Um, it's past midnight and I'm still in the newspaper office. That's not interesting, but Shannon's first blog post is.

Also, Rachel uploaded a bunch of Facebook photos of herself, Shannon, and their friend Annie. My favorite was this one, because she looks ridiculously like me. If she and I had been born together, no one would ever have had trouble trying pick out which of us four girls are twins.

Oh, my old bedroom. My London Fog Blue walls. My director's chair. My Point Loma pennant.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

As water reflects face . . . maybe.

I'm still trying to decide whether to be grateful or offended that there are so many mirrors in my dorm. Go into the neighboring boys' dorm, which has the exact same layout, and there's nary a reflection in sight. I'm sure the guys can catch a glimpse of themselves when they're brushing their teeth or washing their hands, but as soon as I walk into my dorm, I'm assaulted by my image at every turn. Every unit has a full-length mirror that declares your presence as soon as you approach it. My room alone has two full-lengths of its own and one rectangular pane that captures my forehead every time I walk in the door.

And I fall for it every time. I see myself, and my first reaction is to make myself more presentable. Run my hand through my hair, smooth my eyebrows, pull my shirt down, adjust my jeans. Why? Is it my duty to be as attractive as I can? What am I trying to attract, anyways? Who cares if I'm any more disheveled than usual?

I know there's a correlation between attractiveness and how well one is treated or respected, but I can't imagine that comprises the entire impetus behind this impulse. The idea that I've internalized the compulsion to continually primp and groom, straighten and smooth, unnerves me more than it probably should. It's all part of being a girl, right? We all just want to feel pretty, wanted, desirable. So we steal glances in anything that gives the slightest reflection—window panes, rear-view mirrors, sunglasses, spoons, trying to assure ourselves that we look acceptable.

When you start to think about it, it's really odd. There is something to be said for seeking beauty. Beauty and truth are inexplicably intertwined in my mind, and I like to think that the pursuit of one will lead to the other. But for truth to lead to beauty, or beauty to lead to truth, surely it would require something deeper than a mirror.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Has it really been almost 400 years?

Reading Anne Bradstreet this week in light of Sarah Palin's nomination gave me an interesting context from which to experience our country's first poet of either gender. Writing during the 1600s in the Puritan colony of Boston, Bradstreet was disparaged for publishing her work, told that in her hand "a needle better fits" than a pen. Her critics had to be assured that she was fulfilling her duties as a wife and mother to eight children. In fact, she was incredibly devoted to her family, as "To My Dear and Loving Husband" attests.

I was particularly struck by a passage in "The Flesh and the Spirit," her allegorical conversation between the two as sisters. Flesh cannot understand how Spirit lives, and so the latter tries to explain:
How I do live, thou need’st not scoff,
For I have meat thou know’st not of.
The hidden Manna I do eat;
The word of life, it is my meat.
My thoughts do yield me more content
Than can thy hours in pleasure spent.
Nor are they shadows which I catch,
Nor fancies vain at which I snatch
But reach at things that are so high,
Beyond thy dull Capacity.
Eternal substance I do see
With which enriched I would be.
Mine eye doth pierce the heavens and see
What is Invisible to thee.
Spirit continues her indictment, ending with a superb couplet:
If I of heaven have my fill,
Take thou the world and all that will.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The last thing I expected to find in my mailbox.

So I checked my mail like usual, and found an envelope addressed to "Katie Barr." Inside was a little slip of paper that said, "We think you lost this and thought you should have it back."

"It" just happened to be a love letter from one "Ryan" to one "Katie." There are a bazillion Katies on this campus, and I'm not one of them. But somebody went to a lot of trouble to photocopy this letter and type up that little message. I'm sure whoever did it will reveal themselves—I can't imagine not taking credit for something like this. I have transcribed the letter below; I for one enjoyed it immensely.
Dear Katie,

Hey there baby! I hope that you are having tons of fun on your choir tour. I really miss you. Today is Sunday. So yesterday I really did miss you terribly! My heart ached. I was a wreck Friday but I put it behind me. But when I was actually able to sit down and recenter myself, the first thing that popped into my head was an image of your face. I so wish that you could be here right now! I so want you here, but God is also telling me that we need this little break. With the way I'm feeling, and the way your [sic] feeling it hasn't felt like we were so much in love as the first kiss. I admit that I haven't tried as hard as I could have. I let us get into a rut and stay there. When in reality, when I wake up, I look at you all over my room. And I can't believe you love me, and I love you more and more every morning! I can't wait to physically wake up next to the most beautiful, smart, God loving, sensitive, understanding, and did I mention beautiful? I can't wait to proclaim my love for you. You are my love, you are my one, you are my everything.


You are all my heart desires*

I love you!

*Except Jesus :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I hate it when people just post quotations.

“If I have a book to serve me as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all.”

Because, frankly, who wants to exert themselves?

I am at that point in life where we’re supposed to take our beliefs and make them our own. We all have this sense of independent thought, this underlying ethos of self-determined path. I. I. Just the assertion of such bespeaks incredible audacity. I am saying this. It has come from me, and, further, I am worth listening to. I live and breathe and participate in life. I have a voice.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Is this true? It has to be. Who could deny it? Rational, thoughtful consideration of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Intentionality—purposefulness. Are we thinking? Am I thinking? Are you my responsibility? Spinoza said that his happiness is contingent on persuading others to think as he does. If I attempt a thoughtful life, and find it even marginally satisfying, isn’t encouraging the same in you the least I could do?

Mental exertion. Laborious. So hard to ascend the mountain. Why do it? Why do anything? I mean, really now. Why expend so much energy to rise up out of sensual, physical comfort? Why get out of bed in the morning? Why rip off the cozy comforter and spring up into the spare clear air bare and awake?

Why not?

That’s the thing about thinking. You begin thinking that thinking is a waste of time; unproductive, nothing to show for it in the end, that sort of thing. But you do it long enough and you realize that without it, nothing else has worth. I got out of bed this morning. I went surfing this morning. I am going to be late to my Intro to Philosophy class if I don’t finish this soon. I am going to rip off my unexamined blanket of beliefs and plunge into the cold clear water, inky grey-green obsidian glass, and paddle.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Intro to Philosophy.

“If I have a book to serve me as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all.” — Immanuel Kant

Monday, September 8, 2008

Shameless promotion always makes a good birthday present.

Today is Rachel and Shannon's 15th birthday, so what better time, I thought, to link to their blogs? Rachel's been posting up a storm this weekend, and Shannon assures me she will soon follow suit.

Fraternal twins are essentially sisters who happen to be exactly the same age. But they wear it well. I'm super proud of them, too. They've both started community college courses this fall and have been doing brilliantly so far. I like them a lot.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Today was the day I realized that it's possible for college students to do a better job than professionals. I feel like this is important.

So there's been a lot of talk on campus this past week about the RD who was fired August 28. I guess someone called home after the traditional initiation that the boys down in Young Hall inflict on the freshmen every year (essentially skinny-dipping in the middle of the night), and after a few days of deliberation, the administration asked the RD to leave. Apparently, this was interesting enough to merit an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

We discussed the coverage in my Intro to Journalism class today, and were unsatisfied all around. Why didn't the reporter talk to the RD, or students who actually go to the school, or actually outraged parents? I'm hoping The Point Weekly's version of it will be much more in-depth. I know the writers working on it were having trouble getting people to talk, which is understandable. My only part in it will be the editing, so I'm still in the dark on all the details.

I know a lot of people around here still have a lot of questions about it. Since I'm uncomfortable with pretty much any type of compulsory group activity, from school spirit rallies to team-building games, I think the fact that even I find terminating the RD probably too harsh says something about the situation, or at least how it has been handled. From the students' perspective, it looks like someone got lawsuit-happy and the administration got scared. The swimming and all that is something that is widely known to occur every year, and Young's definitely not the only hall that does it.

So what's the truth? I guess we'll have to wait for the paper to come out. It's never been more clear to me how crucial the news media is as a "fourth branch" of government, how essential a free press is to the checks and balances system. I've always taken the objectivity of journalists and the comprehensiveness of news coverage as complete givens. How much more authority could get away with if there weren't persistent, nosy people nipping at their heels and prodding them with questions.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Anatomy of a lit major.

According to a recent study, there are other people, besides my family, who don't have TV. The researcher who conducted this study compares the "crunchy granola set" and the "religious right, ultraconservative," saying that these two groups are at extreme ends of the cultural continuum, and yet members of them tend to denigrate television in the same way.

What's funny about that is that we're a little crunchy, and also a little religious right. And, lo and behold, we haven't had cable for years. We seem to have no problem holding those in tandem; why can't we be countercultural and conservative?

The article also aptly identified the process I went through in my adolescence, having to deal with being out of the loop. Kids around ages 10 to 13 report feeling left out of conversations, they said, but by 14 or 15, they wear their ignorance as a badge of pride. So true.

People who eschew TV have more time, and they spend it more productively, they found. I know I spent it reading, which is an excellent segue into this excellent NY Times blog post on "Gateway Literature." It's something I've wondered about more than once: when did my insatiable appetite for Goosebumps and The Babysitter's Club turn into a passion for Austen, the Brontes, Dostoevsky, Agee, James, Thoreau, Hardy?

It might have been Jules Verne. Although he's not the loftiest figure in the literary pantheon, his adventure novels carried a more elevated sense of language, and more complex vocabulary and character development, than anything I had picked up before I wandered into the school library at lunch one day in sixth grade and checked out Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, just out of curiosity. I ended up reading, that year, almost everything he wrote. I remember being so tickled by this passage from Journey to the Center of the Earth that I read it out loud to my mom when she was driving me to school, though she wasn't particularly amused at the time. I don't exactly know why it was so funny then; maybe it was my first exposure to subtle humor:
My uncle was fifty years old; tall, thin, and wiry. Large spectacles hid, to a certain extent, his vast, round, and goggle eyes, while his nose was irreverently compared to a thin file. So much indeed did it resemble that useful article, that a compass was said in his presence to have made considerable N (nasal) derivation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This has nothing to do with anything, but then, little that I post does.

This is what one minute of my day looked like. The rest of them looked a lot different, but this is the only one I got a picture of.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To think that I distinctly remember hoping for the day that the twins would be old enough to tell me their favorite colors.

Two of my sisters came down and spent the night this weekend. Shannon was working at camp, but Rachel had a tournament in the area, and so afterward, she and Angelica slept over in my dorm. We got coffee in downtown Point Loma that night, and went surfing off the cliffs in the morning.

We had such a good time together. It's funny how many times I wished I was an only child when we were all younger, and The Three, as I privately referred to them, were figuring out how to pick the lock to my bedroom door or trying to join in when my classmates came over after school. When you're nine, and they're seven, five, and five, all you see are little nuisances, especially if you're in your own little world like I usually was. But ten years later, and you're suddenly peers.

I think I'm beginning to see what a rare and wonderful thing it is to have such close and permanent friends. If I never make another friend in my life, I will have had more than my fair share.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Sure, Eliot's poems were difficult and depressing, but when you sign up to sweep the floor of the temple . . ."

I was reading this article the other day, and a line in it gave me pause. The writer, Ryan Ruby, was reminiscing about his view of the world, circa age 19: "Poetry, I believed, should elevate its readers—we angsty few—above the banalities of existence, help us to mourn the increasingly rapid decline of our culture, allow us to place collect calls to the genius dead for advice on how to live authentic lives."

But, of course, Ruby discarded this aim in favor of something more exuberant and less rigid, shooting for irreverently post-modern, I think. I hate seeing people look back ironically on stages in life that I'm at. I want poetry to mean something in everyday life. I want to be elevated and literary. I want to live an authentic life. Am I going to have to shed my ideals and assume an ironical pose toward younger, foolishly ambitious me?

I guess it's inevitable, my natural impulse always being to dissociate myself from my previous attempts. All kinds of people do it. Evelyn Waugh greatly disliked Brideshead Revisited in later years, and T.S. Eliot, who was the favorite of 19-year-old Ruby, saw all his early work as lacking after his conversion to Christianity. And Ruby's change of mind is ultimately affirming; I don't think he did away with all of his poetic ideas of poetry. But if you read the article, just try to ignore the phrase "lightening rod."