Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #12: You’re a Good Man

In which the Puget Sound Theater Department simultaneously amazes and vaguely traumatizes Daniel.

Originally performed in 2004 as a staged reading in Greenwich Village, Bert V. Royal’s satirical drama Dog Sees God is the story of the characters of Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts reimagined as teenagers.  Centering around Charlie Brown – dubbed “CB” in this play – the characters are faced with eating disorders, homophobia, drugs, and an assortment of other adolescent troubles, struggling with their fears, doubts and one another.

These issues, and the realm of teenage angst in general, are ones to which I have a fairly strong aversion.  Knowing that Royal’s play contained these themes while deciding whether or not to attend the University’s production of it, as part of the Theater Department’s Senior Theater Festival (a theater festival that acts as part of senior theater majors’ theses), I had great trepidations.  But in the end, I thought that I wasn’t doing anything much better, and every show before this that the theater department had put on had been extremely impressive, so I took a chance.

In many ways, there was much for me to dislike about the show, most of which lay in the script itself.  Given my adamant feelings against alcohol, I was inclined to dislike a play wherein several characters spend a majority of their time on stage consuming it or under its influence, and I am repelled by excessive, strong language.  The script, though originally premiered in 2004, seems reminiscent to me of something from the 1990s, what with its lengthy, meandering monologues and melodramatic adolescent anger.  Its inclusion of some more profound themes of God and existence seem oddly placed and rather forced.

Yet somehow, my experience at this play was, for lack of a better word, stunning.  The wandering speeches and confusing, existential themes, which in another theater’s hands could have come across as nothing more than a pretentious stream-of-consciousness, were given with simultaneous derisive power and delicate sincerity.  The lack of complex costumes – comprised mostly of jeans and T-shirts – or of elaborate set – comprised of several moveable black blocks and a doghouse– left the audience with little but the power of the script and the actors’ deliveries of it.  This meant that, amid the sarcasm of the parody, moments of true anger, fear and tenderness (of which there are more than a few) cut through the show’s sad, drunk stupor like a knife.

Of these, the moment of the climax of the show cut through me the most by far (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD).  Two of the main characters of the play – Beethoven, the reclusive, geeky, gay pianist incarnation of Schroeder, and Matt, the violent, germaphobic, homophobic incarnation of Pig-Pen – face off after years of Matt’s taunting and bullying of Beethoven, and when Matt threatens Beethoven’s life while he practices piano, Beethoven finally stands up against him.  As Matt’s fury gathers, the stage darkens until all the lights focus solely on the piano at which Beethoven sits and Matt stands.  Beethoven’s short outburst against his bully ends with him spitting the name “Pig-Pen” at Matt, who seizes Beethoven’s hands and smashes them over and over beneath the lid of the piano.  Beethoven screams and screams as the stage goes to black.

In retrospect, I suppose that the force of my immediate reaction and the length of the time that those feelings remained with me were due to the climax being such a violation of my sense of justice.  Fury, panic, fear, nausea, sadness and an amazing sense of having been preemptively defeated by the universe struck me and burned inside of me for the remainder of that week.  These startlingly clear moments of honesty are, in my humble opinion (and let us be clear that I know almost nothing of the technicalities of theater), one of the strengths of the show that the school’s theater exploited to great effect.  This production, then, was a testament to both the script’s heartbreaking, if sometimes awkward and forced, honesty, as well as the focus and clarity in direction of the school’s theater.  It’s hard to come by something that can talk about issues like these so honestly, and while the show is by no means an accurate representation of high school (or college) as I know it, it’s good to know that someone is willing to step up to the plate for it all.

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!

Luau poster

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!


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!



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.