Fun fact: William Cronon dropped out of college to try and write a novel.

In my eight semesters of college, I’ve taken twelve and a quarter classes that are either explicitly about environmental issues or that combine them in some way with the humanities (and, over the course of those eight semesters, have used three different platforms to view my course history – I’m liking the transition to myPugetSound!).  I’ve read William Cronon’s essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” for class at least four times in the past four years and definitely did not appreciate it the first time I read it in my freshman writing seminar.  However, I’ve fortunately had a decent amount of time to correct that oversight on my part, and it’s now probably my favorite assigned reading I’ve ever had.

So I was just a little bit excited to learn that William Cronon himself was coming to campus this semester.  I’m taking one final class this semester in the environmental policy minor program, and one of our assignments was to attend at least one of the lectures.  Well, duh.  Like I wouldn’t be doing that anyway.  He gave two lectures last week about environmental history, on which he is a leading thinker and actually sort of the creator of that area of academia.  I also attended his lunch Q&A session, which is where I learned that he dropped out of school as a sophomore to try and write a novel.

What I found fascinating was how he successfully combined his three passions – writing, history, and wilderness – over the course of his academic career.  I’ve had multiple conversations with my cousin, who’s a computer programmer, about the importance of interdisciplinarity in the real world and therefore in academics, so it’s always satisfying to see that endorsed by established, eminent people and not just a couple of 20-somethings.  Regardless, it’s a little late in the game for me to drop out of school to write a novel – but I’ll keep that plan in mind for grad school.

0.003 Leagues under the Sea

“Yes, yes, yes!” I screamed. I had finally managed to get my weight belt off and on in the water. In case you were wondering, sliding a heavy weight belt on under an even heavier tank is harder than it sounds. There isn’t a lot of room down there. Getting it back on successfully was the last thing I had to do to get my scuba certification. This semester, I have been taking a scuba class and this weekend was our first weekend practicing in the open water.

The first day was challenging for me. My mask was way too tight. When I exhaled the bubbles actually went out the bottom instead of the top. Things were pretty blurry for a while. At one point I was practicing taking my regulator out of my mouth and putting it back in when my mask flooded. For a few seconds down there, I was fumbling around accidentally sucking in water instead of air. Luckily my instructor found my regulator and got it back in my mouth. Fun fact: If you lose your air supply twenty feet underwater, your only thought is getting it back. It really puts things in perspective. That anxiety you had about being the third wheel on a buddy team—suddenly not important.

I had to go back to shore after that. You can’t dive if you can’t see. So I was a little nervous going into today’s lesson. Barring an unfortunate incident with my vest strap everything went smoothly. Diving is relaxing. You have to breathe slowly and deeply in order to use your oxygen supply efficiently, which automatically reduces tension. Normally I chose to relax by either drinking a cup of tea or hitting a punching bag (seems paradoxical I know). But it turns out that floating weightlessly under thirty feet of water works too. You just drift there and keep your eyes open for cool aquatic life. I saw a sea cucumber, some coral, and lots of translucent little fish that looked like crawdads.

I recommend you try diving sometime. Through diving, I learned that if there’s a hole or crevice with a lot of crab parts scattered around it an octopus probably lives there (octopi eat crabs). That bubbles under water look silvery and metallic. And that if you can’t see, for God sakes, don’t take your regulator out of your mouth.

Going the distance

This one goes out to all my senioritis-suffering yet college-lovin’ homies.

I woke up with my eyes facing a patch of blue cut diagonally by a jet contrail.  I’ve woken up in the dark for so many days that I still think I’ve slept in when I wake up to sunlight.  Sometimes the longest distance I travel in a day is the fourteen inches it takes to get out of bed.  The jet that left its trail bisecting my window is miles and miles away now; I hold in my thoughts all those who perished, crashing into a mountain when they thought they were bound for Düsseldorf.  When did it get so hard to leave my bed?  I guess it was that way from the beginning, when as a baby I looked at the far-away edge and knew it would be impossible to get there.  But at some point the impossible became not impossible.  I dragged myself, rolled over, did whatever I had to until the chasm was before me, and then I fell off and hit my head and cried for my tired mother to come pick me up, thus learning my first lesson on achieving dreams.

One of the things I have wanted to do since I got here was bike to Seattle.  Here’s a trick: If you bike to Point D, take the ferry across to Vashon island and then bike across to the ferry going to Fauntleroy, boom, you’re in Seattle and have biked less than twenty miles.  Vashon is an odd blend of country and fancy, where a “general store” out of a converted barn sells patagucci sweaters, and where fancy boutiques line a dusty road that will turn itself into a country highway.

On Valentine’s Day, my back was sore from riding a bike that belongs to someone else.  Brandon and I crossed over the water to this close but other world, fighting our way up the hills and coasting down them in an eye-watering rush, taking up the nearly-empty road with our spinning wheels and shaking frames.  When we got to Seattle, we discovered that the person who was supposed to bring our fancy date clothes was still tied up at a conference, and so we  went to Brandon’s brother’s house to shower and pilfer clothes from his closet.  We showed up at the restaurant dressed tip-to-toe in borrowed clothing, which in my case meant a pair of long johns that I hoped passed for real pants and a sweater that was basically a dress on me.  A meal never tasted so good.

This was baby odyssey.  My riding partner lives the dreamer’s life, keeping in daily touch with his dreams, incorporating his dreams into what his actions, his very breaths.  In the fall, he rode a bike across the state and partway back before his pain-wracked body told him he was done.  Tomorrow, he plans to swim from that same ferry landing in Pt. D across the channel to Vashon Island.  It’s not so much the distance as the chilling cold and powerful currents that make this scary, but he’s going well-supported and I know he’ll be okay.  Later this spring he hopes to complete the Dr. Gordy Klatt Memorial Challenge, running and walking the 83.6 miles in 24 hours just as the Relay for Life founder did.  After that, he has plans to create a record-long hopscotch course around campus and get it recognized as a world record.  World records are nothing new to him.  This one will be the first time his name appears in Guinness Book of World Records, if all goes well, but he treats every impossible  distance crossed as a world record.  Even the achievements  of tiny dreams, like kissing another person while riding a bicycle for the first time, are world records.  The ordinary is extraordinary in his eyes, and those eyes see the bridges over impassable distances.  To me, he is extraordinary for the way that his big dreams never cloud his seeing the small things, how in the mornings he will still open the blinds for me and bring me tea.  That is why when I opened my eyes this morning I saw a patch of blue and I knew that once I crossed those impossible fourteen inches I would have a mug of tea waiting for me.  And so I crossed them.


I am cast in Hamlet, one of the Senior Theater Festival’s productions this year. When I got to rehearsal last night, my cast members  gathered, laughing and talking. We stretched, put our bags away, sipped our last sips of water, glanced over highlighted scripts. And then we naturally fell into a circle, expanding for each new member as they arrived.

Then? My favorite part of rehearsal began, a part I think is important.

“Let’s play a game.”

And we did—we pointed  finger guns at each other and squealed when someone was “Shot”. We let go of our inhibitions, and for a moment we forgot to be adults. We were just children—children in a room, pretending.

We forgot our papers and tests and the lines we hadn’t memorized yet and our friends in the outside world and the missed phone calls from our mothers, and we became fully immersed.

I believe in games. I think they are not only fun but very, very valuable.

People often don’t want to play once they reach adulthood, and that is a travesty.  Children play games because children understand the magic of them, the way that people are transformed by the chance to leap into engaging with one another.

We so rarely allow ourselves to just be with others, to do something silly. But silly is not frivolous—silly is necessary. Silly completes us.

So, on this sunny Thursday afternoon, I challenge you, Loggers, to play. Throw a Frisbee, or race, or play hide and seek.

You are adults, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t, today and every day,let yourself be totally free, just for a few moments.

Playing might surprise you.

Waves (Spring) Breakin’

Over spring break, I went to Newport, Oregon, with my family.  I know, technically speaking, that Newport, which is a coastal town, is not really within the commonly traveled radius of people in Tacoma. But the coasts in the Pacific Northwest are glorious, and I had the best time ever.

Normally I write a lot of words, but today I am just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Actual surfers feat. not me.

The water is super cold at this time of year, but that doesn’t stop some people.  It stops me, but not some people.

I am kinda obsessed with the panorama feature on my phone, but this one looks so good.

I am kinda obsessed with the panorama feature on my phone, but this one looks so good.

The world famous cobbled beach at Yaquina Head.  It might look like it is going to rain soon, but it didn't.

The world famous cobbled beach at Yaquina Head. It might look like it is going to rain soon, but it didn’t.

The resident sea lions aka the noisiest, cutest animals in Newport.  My sister described them as giant black jelly beans that don't shut up.  Look at them cuddling each other.  Look at them.

The resident sea lions aka the noisiest, cutest animals in Newport. My sister described them as giant black jelly beans that don’t shut up. Look at them cuddling each other. Look at them.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance.  We climbed to the top of it, where we then engaged in a furious trivia battle to win buttons.  My family is wild.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance. We climbed to the top of it, where we then engaged in a furious trivia battle to win buttons. My family is wild.

The sun was shining at the Oregon coast.  The seafood was so fresh – well, it had been alive that morning.  We went to sleep with the sound of the waves in our heads.  Everyone was in a good mood.

Poetry Out Loud

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a judge at the regional and state competitions of Poetry Out Loud. Poetry Out Loud is a national competition dedicated to get high school students into poetry and recitation, which does other cool stuff like teach people how to declaim and overcome fears of public speaking and understand poetry and so on.

So imagine: there I was, over winter break, re-watching Game of Thrones to prepare for season five’s return on April 12, when I got an email from the Poetry Out Loud coordinator asking if I would be interested in judging for them. It was a surprise: I had no connection with Poetry Out Loud (besides a brief recitation in high school that I do not speak of), or even the greater government organizer for the event, ArtsWA.   But I did the sensible thing, and immediately agreed.

I would like to thank the professors here, who send on requests and opportunities like this to all their students. It’s amazing how much you can get if you just ask for it—or even, in this case, if you don’t.

It is even more important to jump onboard with whatever opportunity comes your way. I would have never considered volunteering with Poetry Out Loud of my own accord, but accepting their first offer, to be an Accuracy Judge and Prompter at one of the regional competitions, turned out to be a beautiful dandelion that bloomed and turned into a little cotton ball from which the seeds of numerous other engagements sprung.

Each time I went down to work with them, more opportunities came up. I started as a volunteer judge in the Tacoma Library, listening at the regional competition and ready to prompt anyone who forgot their place (this one kid was so close to bailing completely). At the end of the day, the people who ran the program asked me to come back for the state competition—which would, incidentally, be a paid position.

And so I ended up at the Theatre on the Square in downtown Tacoma, watching students much more talented than me recite poetry. At the state level, everyone has their poetry memorized to such an extent that they do not need a Prompter, so mostly I just watched the contest. And I took some pictures.

The theatre.

The theatre.

My official Prompter's binder full of official poetry.  Also, my official seat was dedicated to Bilbo Baggins.  I don't think anyone understands how important that is to me.

My official Prompter’s binder full of official poetry. Also, my official seat was dedicated to Bilbo Baggins. I don’t think anyone understands how important that is to me.

Some of the competitors, getting their official photos taken.

Some of the competitors, getting their official photos taken.

At the end of the day, they asked me if I wanted to return next year.

Spring Break Blues

College is a long arduous process, it’s one we entered into voluntarily but I don’t think we really understood how much it could actually take out of us. There is no easy way, there just isn’t and that’s part of life. That there are struggles and differences in acceptance and learning styles of people that you have to overcome, you may love all your professors as people (it’s so fun and adorable to find out professors are married to other professors, whether they’re in the same department or across campus) and more.

Fun fact: “logger” is a regional term specific to the West Coast.

I’m using this particular fun fact for two reasons.  First, because I was just reminded of it by a friend and teammate, and second, because the crew team’s first race is this coming Saturday, so the topic of mascots seemed appropriate.

If you look at the women’s crew team’s three-page, color-coded spring training plan, you would see that we’re already halfway down the second page.  We’re seven weeks through the thirteen-week season (which doesn’t include the four-week post-season, although we certainly have that in our minds as we aim for our thirteenth consecutive bid to the NCAA Championships).  For a lot of people, it’s weird that we’re at this point in the semester – right after the halfway mark, three-quarters of the way through the school year – and we haven’t even raced yet.  What have we been doing, stuck in the erg room, blasting music through windows gaping to try and exhale body-heated air?  Why have we spent so many mornings up before sunrise, in the rain, in the cold (or, alternatively, in the monochrome of a clouded sunrise or the glory of a clear one, pinks and golds over American Lake)?

My older sister started rowing when she was a sophomore in high school because there were cute boys on the team.  I joined the team the next year, when I was a freshman, just to give it a try.  I didn’t intend to stick with it all through high school, and the thought of being a collegiate student-athlete never even crossed my mind.  (Possibly because I wasn’t very good.)

As a senior at Puget Sound, I’ve been realizing (but also sort of trying to avoid thinking about) how much this last season means to me.  Every season has been important – even choosing to study abroad, which was during a fall semester and therefore not a championship season, was difficult.  After my freshman year, when I had seen our opponents (on both the regional and national level) and understood the history and the traditions of this team, both of which can be boiled down into “we like winning things and goofing off while doing so,” I knew that I wanted this team to be better by the end of my college career than it was when I had joined.  And we weren’t exactly slacking at that point, either.

So that’s why my alarm is set for 4:30 am.  Because I am not a naturally athletic person, and I know that I need to put in a lot of work if I want to keep improving.  And I want to know that, when we line up against Western Washington and PLU and Lewis and Clark and Humboldt State (whose mascot, incidentally, is the Lumberjack – a term specific to the East Coast, therefore giving us the pedantic high ground over them) and whomever else that we are well prepared.  As Thomas Jefferson (allegedly) said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Write What You Hear

In which Daniel showcases both the drab landscape that is his dormitory and some rather amusing doodles.


Of all the college dorm rooms that I have ever visited, mine is by far the most barren. Textbooks necessary for the semester’s courses sit in piles on my bookshelf, the small ocean of clothes I brought from home is stuffed into my dresser, and on my desk is nothing but my laptops, a lamp and some spare sheets of scratch paper. When I was a first year student at Puget Sound, I made the usual assumption that I would need so much more than I truly did – extra books, extra bedding, extra clothes and items of little use but nostalgic significance. By my junior year, I have since learned that moving in and out of one’s dormitory is much easier if there are fewer items to transport, and moreover, that much of what I thought I needed at college I either did not need or could find elsewhere.

On the wall above my desk, however, a few papers have been pasted with a combination of musical sketches, lines of poetry and doodles. These are papers of my musings that I began pasting to my wall at the beginning of this year, and each time I have filled a page, I have given it a place on the wall above my desk. Somewhere on nearly all of these papers is scribbled the phrase “Write What You Hear.” This phrase is not mine to take credit for, but an unwitting gift from a woman named Minah Choi.

Minah Choi pictured center.

Minah Choi pictured center.

Minah Choi and I met over the summer of 2014, when we both attended a chamber music and composition program called California Summer Music (CSM). Roughly 70 string and piano players and 10 composition students across the U.S. were selected to attend, ranging from middle school students to graduate students, and across the program’s three weeks, were intensely trained by guest professors and lecturers. Throughout the three weeks, both faculty and students performed concerts of chamber music, and at the program’s conclusion, each composition student had one piece performed by a student ensemble.

Like me, Minah was a composition student, but unlike me, she was ever so slightly a musical genius, a little gorgeous, and very much a graduate student. Needless to say, I was rather intimidated. Being so young in comparison, having had so much less experience, and coming from a university without a real composition department, I felt very small in her presence.

Being her magnanimous self, Minah decided that she and I would be friends, and to my surprise, I spent the next three weeks under her humorous and good natured mentorship, allowing her to poke and prod me in the right direction. In her adorable Korean accent, she gave me so much great advice, ranging from approaches to wardrobe (“Are you going to be comfortable in that? Yes. Do you care that it looks funny? You should not!”) to leadership (“Sometimes, you just gotta drag them in the right direction while they are kicking and screaming. You just gotta keep smiling all the way too”). But the best advice that Minah ever gave me was after the performance of my piece “Sema in Miniature: For Violin, Cello & Piano”, on the last day of the program.

“It was not the best piece, no,” she remarked as we stood in line at a taqueria. “But it was the most ‘you’ of the pieces – you know what I mean? Of all the students here, you wrote the piece that was the most yours.” She nodded sagely, bobbing her head back and forth as she decided upon her lunch. “This is the most important, you know? You can’t write because you wanna impress someone or sound like someone. You just gotta write what you hear.”


It was not until September arrived that the phrase resurfaced in my memory. Once there, however, I could do nothing to rid myself of it, and I found myself writing it over and over again on blank bits of paper. Eventually, I came to think about what the phrase meant, and once I did, I couldn’t help but feel liberated by it. What a wonderful idea, I realized, to make no attempt to sound like another composer or write in a specific way, but rather to put on paper whatever I hear in my head! It is simultaneously so much harder and so much easier than writing to be heard by a specific audience – harder because you cannot allow one model to dictate your creation, but easier because the connection between you and what’s on the page becomes so much more straightforward.

Looking at my dorm room now, there still is little in it. Although crammed with my tiny and cramped handwriting, there are still few pages adorning my walls. The ideas on those pages, however, are in many ways some of the best I’ve ever had, and even looking at the ideas which never came to fruition, I feel accomplished. Perhaps it’s just the physical act of filling a page with my words and thoughts, or the knowledge that I am capable of creation, but I must admit my debt to Minah Choi.