One time I met the creative geniuses behind my thesis. No big deal.

A few weeks back was the Emerald City ComicCon in Seattle, which is typically one of the highlights of my year. I’ve gone every year since I’ve moved up to Washington for school, but this year it was especially exciting, because of a few of the people attending just so happened to be the people whose creative work has recently had a huge influence on both my life and my academic work.

I’ve been working on my gender studies thesis this semester, and I’ve been focusing on queer narratives in Internet storytelling (like video webseries, podcasts, and webcomics). My two main primary sources are the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and the webcomic The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and AmalBoth of these are really fantastic stories with queer main characters, so all semester, I’ve been analyzing these stories and their impacts on their audiences, falling totally in love with the characters and the storytelling…

And then Emerald City ComicCon happened, and the writers of Welcome to Night Vale AND the artist of Less Than Epic Adventures were all there.

Basically… I got to meet the creators of my thesis primary sources.

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First me with the Welcome to Night Vale crew. Left to right: Jeffrey Cranor (writer), Joseph Fink (writer and producer), myself, and Cecil Baldwin (voice of the podcast)

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Second, me with E.K. Weaver, the artist and creator of The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal. 

I told all of them about my thesis, and tried not to geek out too badly about meeting them, but the fact is, both of these stories are really incredible works with wonderful characters, and I absolutely love how influential they have been for queer audiences and straight audiences alike. Looking at these stories so closely through my thesis has given me such a huge appreciation for the creative geniuses behind them, and getting to meet those people, even briefly, was such an amazing experience. They were all so gracious and seemed legitimately excited that I’ve been drawing so much of my thesis from their work.

Now I just have to make sure my thesis does them justice… but that shouldn’t be too hard, right? Talking for 25+ pages about these awesome stories and queer characters that I love a lot? Piece of cake.

(Check out the podcast at commonplacebooks.com, and the webcomic at tjandamal.com. They’re both really wonderful and worth checking out.)

 

A view of the fire in Valparaíso, Chile

I was playing frisbee in a park, the wind strong enough that it kept blowing the disc into the building which once served as a powder keg.  We started to notice the plumes of smoke as we were walking down the hill, but it was not the first time I have seen smoke rise from the hills here.  The view of black and red rising over the cemetery was picturesque, nothing else.

We had a barbecue planned, with a mixture of Chileans and Americans, and we kept stoking our little fire as the big one raged, drinking our wine and worrying but not having anything else to do.  The firefighters here are volunteers and it is hard to get fire trucks up the hills in an efficient manner.  The winds remained high, spreading what started as a forest fire to the outskirts of the city.  These high parts of the city are populated by folks who put up their wood and tin houses on property they have no legal rights to, and the fire spread down into other houses as well, so that it seems everyone knows someone who knows someone who lost everything.

We couldn’t do anything else but watch as the smoke blurred our view of the stars and look at the apocalyptic shots of flames on the news.  A state of emergency was called.  We went home to sleep and in the morning to wake and see how we could help.

This city has seen many disasters, fires and earthquakes, and there is thankfully a generous response from all the people.  “Fuerza Valpo” is soaped onto the rear windshield of taxis, the shelters are overflowing with clothes, and the streets that we walked up to help out had many others carrying up large bottles of water and packages of toilet paper.  The hill goes up and up and eventually I remember seeing burned houses in the distance and I thought we still had some distance to go, but around the next corner there were suddenly buildings completely destroyed.  It made me dizzy, seeing untouched houses next to broken down walls and ashes, seeing the flowers that grew outside survive while nothing else did, seeing people resolutely going upwards to help, and seeing people hugging one another as they came to terms with what had happened.

There was a man on the street dressed in clothes that marked him as a member of some church organization, carrying a clipboard and talking on his phone.  He was asking the people around him what the name of the street was but nobody knew.  Cesar, the Chilean I was with, told him to use the name of the school we were by as a reference, but even though the sign was right there the guy didn’t understand.  A passerby asked if he was “half-gringo or something” that he should fail to understand, and Cesar said no, maybe Argentine.  Someone else told us he was in fact from Uruguay, which all present understood to mean, he doesn’t speak our language.

As we got up further a journalist tried to stop us and interview us, as we were clearly a group of mostly foreigners.  One girl from our group stopped to talk to him, although he was asking questions like why we were going to help, when that seemed self-explanatory, and whether people seemed receptive to us helping or whether there were tensions.  It was so silly to the majority of us, since all we had done up to that point was walk up a hill, and our stories did not matter in comparison to the stories of people who lived there and people who were already actively engaged in helping.  But because we were foreigners they followed us asking questions and taking photos when we took up shovels and started to work.  We were helping at the house of a relative of a friend, moving all the rubble into empty pet food bags to be wheelbarrowed down the hill.  We had also brought sandwiches and water to distribute, but there turned out to be many people walking around with these things, and with masks.  When we got to the point where what remained was too hot to be shoveled, besides which there was a growing amount of smoke in the air, we headed back down the hill to see if any of the distribution centers needed help.  After not finding any, we took the metro back to Viña, where sat tiredly, ash raining into the foam of our pitchers of beer.

This is my first time being in a disaster area.  Normally I feel so helpless when something happens in another part of the world, and now I am in that part of the world.  It still is not easy to know what type of help is most needed, but with over 2000 houses burned (the most recent figure I have heard) I know that they will continue needing help for quite some time, and it is important to pace myself and not feel too frustrated if I can’t do everything at once.  I don’t mean to only write about earthquakes and fires, but for now this is what occupies my thoughts.

Fuerza Valpo.

Lu’au 2014

One of the best parts of going away to college when you’re from Hawaii is the Lu’au. For one thing, lu’aus are a big deal yeah, but they involve a LOT of work and planning and people that traditional lu’aus aren’t an everyday or even monthly thing. Graduation parties, weddings, and other big celebrations may merit a lu’au or if we decided to go on a staycation and visit the Polynesian Cultural Center’s (tourist must!) traditional lu’au activities- Makahiki games, traditional Hawaiian games to celebrate the New Year, and performances of hula, haka, fire-dancing, poi balls and a delicious Hawaiian buffet! Lu’au is a great way to remember and share the culture of Hawaii, the food, the people, and the music!

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Our lu’au’s theme this year was Ka’ Aina, Ka Makani, Ke Ahi, and Ka Wai which means earth, wind, fire and water, the four elements of life! For the performance many students from Hawaii and all over the country learned to dance kahiko, tahitian, maori, women’s slow and couples dances to name a few. Besides student dancers, the luau committee chairs publicized the event to the community recruiting children & faculty to perform their own hula as well. A live band, lighting & sound company and Dining Services were also selected to help create an authentic Hawaiian experience! Hawaiian recipes and fresh pineapple were brought in to present a feast for all to enjoy before the performances. A group of guys actually Luau would not have been possible with all the help and community spirit of Puget Sound to put on another successful luau!

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The imu group of guys, the dug a deep hole put in the hot coals, banana leaves & whole pig to cook for over 24 hours!

With each dance practice, rehearsal, decoration making and food prep, I was reminded of how amazing Hawaii is. The Hawaiian band would perform local favorites such as Hawaiian Superman and share that aloha spirit slipping into pidgin english, ho brah! \m/ Despite many people from Hawaii coming from rival schools we all are from Hawaii and have bonded over that love for home and sharing that with our new friends here. It was an amazing night, all the company, delicious food  and many more happy memories of this semester! I can’t wait to start thinking about next year’s luau!

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The kahiko lovely dancers (I did this one)!

Fun fact: UPS has produced more ocean rowers than any other university.

Okay, I haven’t verified this particular fun fact, but I heard it from the mouth of the most famous of UPS’s ocean rowers, so I figure he’s a decent source.  Jordan Hanssen, class of 2005, came to campus last week to give a talk about how, this one time, he and some friends thought it’d be pretty cool to row across the Atlantic Ocean.  Long story short, not only did they think about it, they actually successfully did it, which landed them in the Guinness Book of World Records, created a nonprofit group called OAR Northwest, and inspired a book called Rowing into the Son in the process.  Now they’re doing research and environmental education expeditions.  No big deal.

Let’s just get this out there: how crazy impressive is it that this group of Puget Sound grads (all of whom, let the record show, were a part of the crew team as students here, thank you very much) rowed across an ocean?  The physical and mental endurance to do something like that is a bit inconceivable to me, just sitting here at a table in the SUB typing away at my laptop.  The general Puget Sound population already thinks us rowers are crazy enough, with our 4:30 a.m. alarms for chilly morning practices on our good ol’ American Lake, and we aren’t the ones crossing 3,000 miles of open ocean in a 29-foot boat.

This coming Saturday morning, April 12, alumni of Puget Sound Crew will gather at American Lake for the team’s 51st annual dual (or duel, depending on how you think of it) with Pacific Lutheran University, known as the Meyer/Lamberth Cup.  Years of tradition will comingle at the grassy and slightly muddy hill of Harry Todd Park, represented by present rowers and past, along with any non-crew-related students who feel like sitting around watching boats row by.  A four-foot-tall papier-mâché sculpture of a person’s head may make an appearance.  You never know what these alums might come up with.

And, because you all were wondering, the number of ocean rowers who are also Loggers is five.

Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #11: Facebook Official

If there is anything on the internet that I love, it is Ted Talks.  I have imposed strict rules on myself with respect to limiting my use of social media and online entertainment – I do not allow myself to watch television during the school year, I do not permit myself to even download games on my phone or computer, and I will not become friends with anyone on Facebook unless I work with them (examples: members of my a capella group, brothers in my fraternity, etc.).  Yet I can spend hours meandering through the world of Ted Talks, introducing myself to all sorts of ideas I might never have encountered otherwise.  I argue, when the hours pass and I still haven’t done my homework, that I am still learning something new and valuable (which, I’d like to think, I am).  I will spend entire days sitting in a coffee shop with a pile of library books, a cup of Chai and my computer, alternating between reading, listening to musical theater and watching Ted Talks.

Technology is, in this way, about my connection with ideas that interest me and passions I want to pursue, as well as a means with which to organize and communicate with those I work with.  It is not, probably unlike many other students, a primary means with which I connect with others.  Bronwyn Haggerty, a friend I made earlier this year, initially made contact with me when she mentioned to me that she had attempted to stalk me on Facebook, only to realize that I did not, at the time, have an active Facebook account.  I had deactivated it during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, to my immense relief after several years of awkwardly balancing how much information I wanted to put online.  But Bronwyn’s comment struck me as oddly unsettling.  “Well then,” I told her, “You’ll just have to stalk me in real life, won’t you?”   Had I a Facebook account, she may have perused my profile absently and sent me a friend request, which I would have rejected, thinking “Who is this person?”  But not having one forced her to interact with me one on one, without being able to peruse or edit ourselves.

This issue – of me not being Facebook friends with others, and them expressing dissatisfaction with it – is one that I was surprised to see was widespread, once I joined my fraternity and had to reactivate my Facebook.  Members of my choir, brothers in my fraternity, and classmates all inquired accusatorily “Why aren’t why friends on Facebook?”  The primary reason for most of those people was just that I didn’t know them.  What possible purpose could our Facebook friendship serve?  More likely than not, our online relationship would be little more than a small nod to one another’s mere existence, with neither party having the interest or willpower to connect with the other.  A friendship is not defined by its Facebook status, or the number of posts on one another’s walls.  A “relationship” built off of online connection is silly, immature and absolutely useless.  I cannot see enthusiasm in a friend’s eyes while we text, and I cannot hear the rise and fall of their voice in a status.  I am Facebook friends with almost none of my truly close friends, and none of my family.  I would much rather connect with them directly, and be friends with them in a much better place – real life.

I do not mean to say that technology is bad.  I think that it is neither intrinsically good nor bad; it is a tool that can be used in a great many ways.  I have seen a beautiful Ted Talk about Facebook being used between Israelis and Iranians to directly promote peace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Lp-NMaU0r8) and another about technological designs made for the visually impaired (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apiScBmE6rA&list=PLOGi5-fAu8bGBdmcaxdD_lUZ1wXZhpccQ&index=2).  Technology has improved the world one hundred times over and one hundred times again, eradicating diseases, allowing us to communicate rapidly and giving us (my personal favorite) indoor plumbing.  Yet when it comes to technology and social interaction, I wonder if there is a limit to their seemingly symbiotic relationship.  So I shall leave you with one last Ted Talk, discussing this very subject, entitled “Connected, But Alone?” by Sherry Turkle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7Xr3AsBEK4).  The eloquent Mrs. Turkle explains the way that society’s dependence on social media has created a mindset wherein, rather than experiencing emotion and connecting with others for that, we experience a sense of emptiness, and turn to others in search of any emotion at all – encapsulated by her phrase “I share, therefore I am”.  It is ultimately the ability to be alone, to face and know oneself, that will make connecting with others easier and more sincere.  This is not to say that others do not help one find oneself, or that connecting with others will ever truly be easy.  But others cannot, as Turkle says, “be used to prop up our fragile sense of self”, and relationships are meant to be “rich and complicated and messy” – that is what makes them real.

I love talking with other people.  I love listening to them explain their lives and hopes in all their grand and mundane details.  I love laughing with others, seeing the emotions in their eyes, feeling their comfort when we hug.  None of these things can be found on my phone or through profiles in which we have altered ourselves to be just right.  I’ve learned to be alone to know myself well enough that others are not parts from which I makeshift myself; others are companions, independent and worthy of both respect and interest.  At the end of the day, technology can be an excellent communication and coordination tool for connecting with others, but when used as a primary component of a relationship, it is a pale imitation of all the beautiful mess that is trying to see someone for exactly who they are.

New places, new people, new thoughts…

Well, here I am sitting on the train… I’m taking the night train from Milano to Vienna, and I don’t think there is a better time or place to write my very first blog post. So here it goes!

First of all, thanks for reading! I have always enjoyed reading the blogs of students both on campus and abroad, and I thoroughly appreciate the time that you are now spending to read this. Grazie mille, i miei amici!

As of today, I have been in Europe for fifty-two days. It has been quite the adventure thus far: full of moments drenched in joy, thoughtfulness, stress, anxiety, and a good helping of adventure. Before settling down in my current location of Milano, I was travelling around Europe will my dear ol’ dad, Tim. We went Copenhagen, Prague, Budapest, and Venice, with a night in between here and there in Berlin. Nearly all of it by train, some of it by boat, and lots of it by foot! Each city we traveled in, we tried to walk to most of the places that we wanted to visit. Because of this, we saw so many beautiful things: street art (I hope to dedicate an entire post solely to street art), buildings, churches, FOOD, people…all the little things that make a place truly special.

After seeing so many things and having some time to settle into a totally new and foreign place, I have come to some very humbling realizations. I am going to dedicate the rest of this blog post to one specific realization. Worry not, I will write in more detail about the things I’ve seen and done at a later date, hopefully soon!

One of the most humbling and wonderful realizations that I’ve had after seeing so many people, is that people are essentially the same, everywhere. Everybody wants to be happy, to be loved, to have security, to be able to do what they want to do, to have freedom. The words I just used are not as precise as I would like them to be, but I hope the point is understood regardless.

Stereotyping happens to all types of people, and it certainly affects the way that we experience certain peoples and cultures and potentially limits our experiences and the way we interact with the world. Stereotypes allow us to create barriers: we think of our relationships to other types of people as ‘us and them’ or ‘different’, and these ideas create grounds for thinking in terms of superiority.  Yes, groups of people have certain characteristics that make them outwardly unique. For example, Italian stereotypes include that they eat a lot of pasta and pizza, are loud, and use lots of gesticulation. Yes, all of these are true in some ways for some people, but there are plenty of Italians who do not relate closely to these stereotypes. All the Italians (and other people) I have met are more similar than different to most of the people I know back in the States.

Mostly what I’m getting at is that yes, groups of people are characterized in certain ways for a reason, but really we all need and want the same things and we just express these things in different ways. We speak different languages and act different ways, but we’re all saying the same things! To me, this is such a wonderful thought. It means that no matter who we are, we can all relate, human to human, face to face, with loving kindness.

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Adelphian Tour 2014 (alternate title, Everything Is Awesome)

Today I finally got home for spring break, after spending four wonderful days traveling around the great state of Washington with the Adelphian Concert Choir. I. Am. Exhausted. (And possibly starting to get sick… I’m amazed I managed to dodge the tour bug as long as I did.) But it was a freaking blast.

Some of the best experiences of tour, in no particular order:

-The homestays. We had some amazing UPS alumni and Adelphian friends volunteer to house us for the nights we stayed in Walla Walla and Spokane, and these people were seriously amazing. In Spokane I got to stay in a beautiful house that had been transformed into a bed and breakfast, when I got probably the best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Then in Walla Walla, I stayed with five other Adelphians in a lovely home where we were provided with Oreos, tea, cuddly  dogs, comfy beds, a giant walk-in shower, and biscuits and bacon for breakfast. It was seriously the best. (My homestays were so awesome that at first I kind of felt bad for Adelphians who had been housed at other places, but then I heard about homestays where there were cinnamon rolls for breakfast and pet chinchillas to cuddle. From what I heard, all the homestays were just as awesome.)

-We had all brought our swimsuits so we could hang out in the hot tub at the hotel in Wenatchee, but when we arrived we found that the hot tub was, in fact, a cold tub. But did that stop us? Nay! After some initial disappointment, we said “screw it” and went swimming in the pool instead, and probably kept the entire hotel awake. (At least, until 11:30 when we were kicked out for being too loud.)

-Getting to know my choir buddies so much better. We got a lot of quality time together, especially on the bus. There was one really exciting leg of our journey where we played this great bus ride game: the people on the aisles would move from seat to seat, and our tour manager (the amazing Aaron Altabet) would ask a super creative questions to get some conversation going, and we spend would a few minutes getting to know our seat buddies. Probably my favorite question was, “If you could have lunch with a UPS professor, a famous person, and a fellow Adelphian, who would you pick?” (It’s a tough one, but I’d have to go with Mita Mahato, J.K. Rowling, and Daniel Wolfert. I just have a hunch we’d have some of the most amazing conversations about Harry Potter.)

-The food in Leavenworth. I mean, Leavenworth in general was pretty awesome, but the food, oh my. They had an entire shop devoted to cheese, and there was salt water taffy in basically every store, and for lunch I got to split French onion soup and German macaroni with a fellow Adelph. It was the absolute best.

-Meeting Adelphian alumni after our concerts. We had a concert every night of tour, and after almost every one, an alumnus or two would join us afterwards for our usual post-concert song. We met recent alumni as well as some from the seventies and eighties, maybe even a couple from the fifties and sixties, and they all joined in as though they’d been in Adelphians yesterday. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how long this group has been around, and meeting these alumni and hearing their stories was so much fun. For serious, I feel so honored to be part of this group.

-Dr. Zopfi wearing this hat:

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A Year Ago

Last week was midterms, and it coincided with my alma mater’s third quarter finals as well. It’s so weird to think a year ago I was deciding where I wanted to go for college. That I was anxiously checking the mail and my email from any sign of the college acceptances. I had friends waiting to hear back from huge state schools, technical schools, the Ivy’s, or any school that would let us leave Hawaii (small rock syndrome we like to call it). I wasn’t super aware of checking my mail with concerts, finals, and leadership conferences to plan so the day I came home to an ivory envelope stating “Open this! It’s Good News Inside!” from Puget Sound I was instantly excited! I decided to wait to open the envelope until both my parents were home so I could share the good news with them!

A year ago I was worried about all the scholarships I was applying for, my entire senior “last” activities and actually going out and being tourist-y around Hawaii. I knew that if I was going away to Puget Sound, I would miss Hawaii with all my friends, family, food, fun and sun so I decided to soak up all the rest of spring and summer; trying to live in the moment. Now, I like to think I’m still living in the moment but I’m more aware of the future. For the 18 years of my life I knew I’d be going all the way through high school and college and then I’d really be on my own to decide what to do. That time is only three years away and I’m still deciding what I want to do, it’s crazy to think it’s only been a year since I was in a completely different place.

From applying to schools, getting accepted, deciding to go to Puget Sound, graduating, my last “free” summer, going off to college, meeting all these new, amazing people and trying new things, I think it’s been a great year. I’ve changed as a person, I was so worried about the differences in college and being away from all that was familiar but Puget Sound welcomed me into the fold and I continue to love my new home. In high school all my upperclassmen friends stressed “make the most of the time you have. It goes by way too fast!” and my senior year I took it all in, every chance I got but I think that saying applies to life. I never thought I’d be almost done with my first year of college already, that I’d only have three more years of Puget Sound and into the real world I will go. But Puget Sound has definitely prepared me for the future and I can’t wait for more opportunities, friendships and learning experiences I’ll encounter along the way.

Fun fact: the first woman to summit Mt. Rainier did so wearing an “immodest” flannel bloomer suit.

I hadn’t given any thought to the history of women’s climbing in Washington prior to a recent event I attended: Washington State Senate Resolution 8694, which honors women and girls in sports (including climbing, as referenced by the title of this post), was being recognized by the state senate.  And so a handful of Puget Sound representatives, myself included, found ourselves in the state capitol building, on slippery leather seats, looking down onto a room of senators and shiny desks and oddly flowered carpet, and heard the following statement:

WHEREAS, The University of Puget Sound athletic department offers eleven women’s varsity sports at the Division III level, giving two hundred ten female student athletes the opportunity to compete in collegiate athletics; its women’s soccer squad has won twelve consecutive NWC titles, the longest active title streak in Division III women’s soccer history; and its women’s crew squad has reached the NCAA tournament eleven years in a row….

As the speaker read the names of the people attending, the senators rose and applauded.  So now I can say I’ve gotten a standing ovation from people far more powerful and influential than I am, how’s that for a bucket list item?

Disregarding bucket lists for a minute, though, I have to say that I’ve achieved far more athletically and personally at Puget Sound than I expected as, say, a junior in high school who was a bit surprised to find herself rowing in the top varsity 8.  I’ve had conversations with people here about how excited we are to see this person beat us on the upcoming 2K test and how impressed we are with that person’s progress.  Maybe I was just an exceptionally self-centered high schooler, but things like that would have made me a bit bitter a few years ago.  Watching and learning from the examples of past and present UPS rowers has both inspired me athletically and helped me grow as a person.  And, as the WA state senate has pointed out, personal growth is an integral part of athletics.

But seriously, how cool is it that the state senate has a proclamation and an event specifically for female athletes?

Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #10: Living in Circles

In which Daniel looks back at this year from the three-quarters mark.

If college was marketed to me as anything growing up, it was as a life-changing experience – not necessarily in a way that meant a single moment blatantly and dramatically altered the course of one’s life, but rather in a way that meant that the act of going through this educational system more or less independently would change the way one approaches work and life.  Yet as I consider life thus far, I am debating the validity of that statement.  I don’t think that it’s necessarily true or false across the board, but that it may be true for me only to a degree.

Let us consider the changes in my life since my first blog post that was posted on the twin side of last semester – during the fall break that divides the fall semester in half.  Once again, the time is immediately after midterms (although then the fall semester, and now the spring), and once again, I am sitting in a Starbucks as I write this (although it is now the Starbucks on 6th Avenue, rather than the one on Proctor).  Once again, I am listening to Katy Perry (although then I was listening to my favorites from her Teenage Dream album, and now I listen to my favorites from Prism), and I am still wondering what on earth I am doing writing about my life (as if it is of interest to anybody).­ I still spend almost all my time in the music building, and am taking almost the exact same classes, just increased in level and subsequent difficulty, and am involved in the same extracurriculars and student activities.

Yet a great many things have also changed.  My house, Rat Sking Thong (see Blog Post #1 if you are confused by this title), lost Isabel Chae as a housemate due to her decision to withdraw from school.  I became a codirector of Underground Sound, my a capella group, alongside my good friend Lisa Hawkins, and became the chorister (director of musical activities) of my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.  I helped the Residential Student Association change our Director of Sustainability position to that of Director of Publicity. My family moved from one house in Raleigh, North Carolina, to another, larger and more wooded one, and my dog had her 10th birthday.  And I did not sleep through a single midterm!

It’s funny that people can so easily live in circles.  Maybe they’re just easy to become comfortable in, or maybe it’s easy to forget that you live in a circle at all – not that living in circles is necessarily a bad thing.  But I feel as if I keep coming back to writing about me writing.  Is my life really that uninteresting?  (I’ll give you a hint: The answer is yes.)  Every time I’ve watched a Puget Sound theatrical production, I feel as if I focus on the gender studies related aspects of it.  And I keep listening on other people’s conversations as I write these posts, as I am always in public places, just as I am listening to a woman I don’t know describing her friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter comforting her in times of stress.  Even my mood and temperament seem to repeat across the year, as they have done every year – beginning with confident optimism in summer, increasing desperation in fall, exhaustion and despair in winter, and an almost inexplicably powerful, sentimental hope in spring. Maybe it’s the fact that school years have such a similar format each time, or I am just deeply affected by the weather.

Still, I wonder if things ever really, really change.  Probably.  Who am I asking?  Does anyone even read these blog posts?  I genuinely have no idea.

In our last chapter meeting, the pledges of Beta Theta Pi were discussing one of our core principles, intellectual growth.  We debated and analyzed the statement “Betas are devoted to continually cultivating their minds, including high standards of academic achievement”, considering the parallels between cultivating a garden and cultivating a mind – the necessary work, the continual labor, the necessity of love for that which is being cultivated, and the joy in the fruits of one’s labor.  But what struck me most about the chapter meeting was when the person responsible for education played a video of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 graduation speech to Kenyon College, entitled “This Is Water”, which can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzFNh2_dSBg

Fish, he jokes, go through life ignorant enough to not even consider what water is.  This, he goes on to say, is not so unlike adults that go through the daily, boring, frustrating grind of daily life without considering the attitudes with which they perceive the world.  If we think beyond our automatically selfish attitudes, he says, if we have the imagination to see the world as an expanding place of possibility and the empathy to consider the hardship and kindred spirit we share with others, we are free to choose how to see the world.  We are free to decide whether to say that the world is a good place.  This, he says, is water.

I will say this about living in circles: I have done it for what seems like every year since middle school began, and it, in and of itself, is not what I am unhappy about.  I am unhappy that it is not my choice.

Maybe that’s what being an adult is supposed to be about.  Maybe I’m supposed to choose what circles I live in, and how expansive my world is, and how I connect with others.  But I’m just a college student three quarters of the way through his sophomore year of college.  What would I know, anyway?