Tag Archives: Wesleyan

Ink Blots and Achievements

20130609_183613A good half-dozen partial posts are sitting in my draft box.

Each begins with some creative quip or funny experience, but invariably they drop-off in quality at the part that I tie the opening paragraphs to the section that actually matters.

While it would be difficult to argue that my life has in any way significantly slowed since the pre-April 12th days (aka the days before my thesis was due), I am spending considerably less time undisturbed in a research cave.  Lack of human interaction encourages use of other outlets to process life…like blogging.  Hence the plethora of thesis-complaining posts and absence of anything since then.

But more importantly, I think there’s been less to record.  Despite finishing school, moving, and settling into what will be my life for as long as the immediately foreseeable future holds, everything simply is, and I’ve been waiting for it. 

I finished school sometime at the end of May, but my thesis eclipsed all other schoolwork in importance sometime in early October.  After thesis, none of it mattered any more.

By the spring, I started experiencing some kind of mental whiplash for attempting to fully live in the worlds that were work and school, knowing that I couldn’t fully commit to either.  I could remember everything on the church calendar for the next three weeks, but I’d consistently double-book my own schedule because school and work never merged in my head.   I willfully chose to try to make the most of what was left of school, but my friends were as aware as I was that my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

I’ve been teased for my lack of sentimentality, which is probably fair.  One of the last times I spoke with Prof. Elphick, I went to great lengths to assure him that I didn’t regret my Wesleyan education.  Near-complete lack of resources for anything I really cared to study is unfortunate, but learning how to ceaselessly defend and protect myself has got to count for something.

But the truth is, I love a challenge.  Sometimes, I love a challenge so much, I bypass the transitions, because what’s next or could be is always more exciting.

This doesn’t deny the importance of the present.  In fact, it elevates the importance of the present, because it articulates dreams that are still too splotchy to yet fully-explain as challenges instead of directionless aspiration.  It frames the present in the realistic context of what could be.

Some of what I’m working toward are very old dreams, some are clearer than they once were, and some I finally just know how to pursue; and while I’m still drawing the plans, there’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful place to be.

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Flatbread Crackers & Cheese

DSC00988One time last semester, life was falling in pieces, or at least I thought it was.  I really can’t remember why I was upset.  I just know that I was in my spot on the Dennison steps, legs dangling a few feet above the heads of students walking below.   Judy came along behind me, and speaking the universal code that is I wish I could help but really can’t, she gave me food.  Flatbread crackers, tomato sauce, and shredded cheese has been my thing ever since.

I work on deadlines.  I always have.  Pretty sure the over-achiever, ambitious timelines I set fall in rhythm with my own heartbeat.  Supposing this connection were true, it would explain why not meeting deadlines of any kind, include my own, sets my pulse racing.

Watching an idea larger than I can properly explain come together has been the achievement of my academic life.  Admittedly, there are things far more important.  Likewise, a few dozen mostly coherent pages doesn’t really count for anything truly “academic.”  While its stolen my life, interests, time, relationships, sleep, and is about to get away with my sanity, a thesis is an exercise, not book.  If I’m a lucky, a dozen people will actually read it, and half of them will be either paid to do so or share my bloodline.

And yet, it’s all I want tonight, because it still matters.  The sophomoric (literally, cause I was a sophomore) Thursday night stomachache of fear and tension and not actually being fully convinced of my ability to make my deadline is setting on with prodigious force.

I spent most of the day camping out in the CSS library, a location with the unique advantage of being unoccupied, large enough to pace, and far enough away from anything that matters to yell at my computer without disturbing anyone.  The introduction I wanted to complete on Thursday is finally written and the rewrite of Part I is at last underweight, but the gaps, unwritten conclusion, edits, and eight days I have until I need a complete draft rise on my shallow breaths.

I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’m pretty sure this is the intellectual equivalent, and I’m doing it on flatbread crackers and cheese.


Glimpses

20130221_193011 Some things, being so much worth celebrating, so much more than what you had been hoping for, and yet, so much a part of a much larger story, are near impossible to communicate.

Should a casual onlooker have dropped by my apartment on a recent morning, he or she would have noticed a few things.  Among them–three sets of shoes thrown about and a disorderly pile of clothes and books.  If Waldo had been hiding in the corner, he’d of never been found.  Yet, I remain a perpetually organizing, color-coding, stressed-when-a-room-is-cluttered neat freak.

All that’s to say, there is an inverse relationship between time I have to breathe each day and the cleanliness of my room.  Less time begets a a bigger mess.

The routine of the semester has comfortably set in and the predictions I made about how I would spend my time are proving to be accurate.  I recently met a paper deadline for a seminar class with about six hours of work, including all reading time.  By contrast, I’ll usually spend about six hours just preparing to do thesis writing every Saturday.

So with a skilled mental division of labor, I chose not to think about how this week’s Veritas Forum would upset my schedule.  Veritas seeks to engage the larger campus community with “life’s hardest questions” and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of it.  Academics who lead the forums include pretty much all the vocal Christian intellectuals who you’d think would be into this kind of thing, the scholars who like to tell them that they are wrong, and the most popular professors on each campus that hosts an event.

I knew Veritas was going to be good.  The marketing team killed it, the topic was provoking (science and faith), the guest speaker a genius, and it all felt right.  Last year, 100 people turned out for the first-time event.  This year, I fully expected 120-150 students and  great discussion.

I showed up during the hour between final tech preparations and when people were expected to start arriving, just because I wanted some time to sit and pray in the room.

But it didn’t work.  People started coming—super early.  That never happens on a college campus.  By the time the forum was underweight, 225 students had piled into the largest lecture hall on campus.  It was standing room only.

veritasThey came from everywhere–grad students, humanities majors, science majors, social science majors, community members, and professors.  They came with questions and objections.  From my seat in the middle of the very back row of the stadium hall, I saw everything, and it was extraordinary.

During lecture, an open computer screen in front of me wasn’t on facebook.  The kid was googling something the speaker said.  He pulled out a notecard and wrote down his question for the Q & A.  Friends kept quiet, running commentaries with each other during the presentation.  A Buddhist student’s forum-related facebook status made me laugh out loud.  Afterward, the biggest complaint I heard was that people had a questions Prof. Hutchinson didn’t have time to answer.

Crowds discussed the lecture at a reception afterward, and for all I know the cupcakes multiplied, because, for the first time in my life, the good food at a campus event didn’t run out.

Toward the end of the night, Abraham ran up to me with a stack of survey cards.  It was so tall, I thought it included blank cards, but it didn’t.  The survey asked the faith you grew up with, the faith you have now, and the biggest question the forum made you think about.

20130223_210917

Survey cards.

Despite having barely started a paper due the next morning, I poured through all 180 surveys, amazed at the responses.  People from all kinds of faith backgrounds showed up, and, based on the questions they wrote down, they were walking away wondering about the most basic questions.  What is truth?  Where does it come from?  How and why would Christianity fit into it?  For a lot of people, it was personal.

Needless to say, I’ve never been so excited about data entry.  Follow-up plans are already underweight and buzz from the event is still in conversation.

I wish I could say more.  I wish I could explain how much this meant to me and how long I had waited for it to come together.  I wish I could explain how that one single night fits into a hundred more and why it all matters.

Instead, I just have a messy bedroom.


Downshift

Once in the eighth grade, I did all sixty-some problems in the accelerated geometry textbook for a lesson because I forgot to write down which numbers to do.  I didn’t have the phone number of anyone in the class, so the only logical option in my over-achieving brain was to spend several hours doing what was suppose to be a half hour/forty-five minute assignment.  It was the only way I could still get my five homework points.

Yesterday, I realized that academic classes are the single least important part of my life right now.  My family, work, thesis, and (gasp) even my social life are all much higher on my priority list.

No doubt this is a good thing.  On the one hand, it means that somewhere between middle school and today, I appropriately toned-down unnecessary academic intensity.  On the other hand, it just reflects new priorities.

I was peripherally cognizant of this when I signed up and fought my way into easy (but respectable) courses this semester.  A lecture-based history course focusing on an era that I’ve already studied extensively is not challenge, especially when it has less reading and writing in the entire semester than what I’d get in three weeks of CSS.  I took a seminar on Political Thought in Israel, because I realized that if I do, I get an extra line on my diploma saying that I’ve earned a certificate in International Relations (a very nice thing to just stumble across).  Given my mediocre understanding of current events in the Middle East, I was surprised by how quickly I could do the reading and still make meaningful conversational contributions to the class.

By default, everything can’t be important, because then nothing is.  But the day when academics don’t matter (relatively so)?  I suppose I always saw it coming, but I certainly never expected it actually arrive.


M.P. vs. Rice

On Sunday night, I went to a dinner at Lighthouse, and it was one of those off-nights where rice just didn’t taste good.  I wanted mashed potatoes.

I love it when my friends cook for me.  I love confusing mushrooms with eggplant and having them describe all the new flavors and textures to me.  But Sunday night, I was tired and I just wanted to know what I was eating.

Spain and a year to look back on the explosions of sophomore year have given me some kind of perspective.  I’ve never been so consciously aware of my ability to just get up and leave.  While living in Spain, I hopped a plane to Africa, scrubbed a last minute trip to Ireland, and wandered around Paris at 1:00am.

Now, I’m not talking about running away, not even in the slightest.  Rather, I am describing the get-up, get-gone, go-and-run-to-it part of life.  I do that, a lot.  I think that’s how I ended up at Wesleyan, and if it is not, it is certainly why I am still here.

But lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot more about mashed potatoes.

This summer, I’ll be back in Indiana, where potatoes outnumber cups of rice 3:1, minor league baseball is a summer highlight, and lawn signs are more common than pacifist bumper stickers.  I’ll be home.

Home’s a vibrant place, a place I return to intentionally, and with great desire, but its not the same– which is all I’m hoping for.  I want to prove the real value of my liberal arts education, by using it in context.  I want to learn, experience, and network.  See home as a city, not just the place I went to high school.  Finally learn the downtown restaurants.  Use the libraries.  Thesis research.  Hang out with my mom.  Meet people.  Make friends.  Read books.

I need this summer to be good.

…But you know, as soon as I get there, I’ll totally be making pad thai.


Reactions to Scalia

I don’t know if I can fully express the depth of my appreciation for tonight’s lecture.

It is so unfamiliar to sit in a crowd, listen to someone articulate a controversial position, and actually agree with everything they say.

I sat without that cringing feeling in my gut that comes every time someone really intelligent says something that I violently disagree with.   My mind wasn’t racing, trying to come up with the best way to express my criticism.

I just sat and smiled, thinking to myself, “Yeah, that absolutely makes sense.”

There is something truly powerful in actually having something I think affirmed.  

His lecture explored the criticisms of originalism, and he framed his argument in a way that Wesleyan students could follow.  He understood exactly who his audience was.  And in the Q & A, he took the questions head-on.

Justice Scalia was unfazed by the banner drop, condoms raining from the balcony with stickers that say “practice safe sodomy,” and students dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods.  Though he did stop to briefly comment on the spectacle, calling it “very impressive.”

As far as the protest goes, I was fairly unimpressed with the group outside before the event.  Most of them were standing near me in line, and it looked like about a third of them weren’t even students.  There’s something about a transplanted protest that just feel inauthentic, that and the signs about how the GOP hates women.

I genuinely felt for the poor woman yelling something about money by the door, and unfortunately right by my ear.  Her voice was noticeably more intense and louder than others, like she was expressing real, bitter rage– to college kids waiting to enter the chapel and listen to a Supreme Court Justice.

I was also disappointed by the number of people at the event who weren’t students.  I’ve expressed this frustration before, but I have a huge issue with the fact that only 175 of 500 tickets were available to students.  I can appreciate that community members, press, prominent alums, donors, parents, etc., want to be there, but so do students.   If anything, the student movement that didn’t even want to hear what Scalia had to say speaks to our need for his presence.

Anyways, kudos to the people that were responsible for getting Scalia here tonight.  It truly meant a lot to me.

 


500 Seats, 175 for students?

a small part of the line

On Thursday, March 8th, Wesleyan University will host U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

I sat down as the 12th person in the line for Justice Scalia tickets at 8:03am, three minutes after Usdan officially opens.  Within 20 minutes, we were pushed against the wall, and by 9:00am the line extended beyond the Usdan doors by Fayerweather and folded back toward the black couches.

Obviously, student anticipation for this year’s Hugo L. Black lecture is high.  However, as the line and anxious students counting the people in front of them indicates, the number of seats available to students (175 of 500) is a concern.

After it was announced that Justice Scalia would be this year’s speaker President Roth commented, “I think it’s really important for Wesleyan to bring speakers to campus who don’t just preach to the choir, who don’t necessarily fit into what people think Wesleyan students think.”  I agree with him.  I just wish that more students had an opportunity to actually hear Justice Scalia, in person, when he comes.

(Author’s note: A portion of this blog post was submitted as a WesSpeak to the Wesleyan Argus, and will hopefully run in this Friday’s paper.)