Everything Else Is Secondary

In which Daniel struggles with one of his least favorite words.


To my dear reader,

Of all the words in the English language, one of my least favorites has always been “leader.” It’s a word I associate with arrogance, with overbearing men, with bureaucracy and rigidity. It’s also a word that holds a great deal of power over the world’s collective imagination. We are all, so it seems, supposed to be striving to be leaders in our fields and communities, because leaders get to live high on their pedestals while the plebeians muck around in the filth. I’ve never felt very empowered, so equating myself with a leader always seemed ludicrous.

It is for this reason, alongside my dislike for teams, that I did not consider myself one until well into college. This isn’t to say that, while in college, I’ve felt that I am better than others – if anything, my eyes have been opened to my insignificance in all fields – but rather that I’ve begun to embrace the idea of setting an example for others.

A big reason for this is, to my surprise, a personality test – the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment. The test measures four dichotomies of a personality – introversion vs. extroversion, intuition vs. sensing, thinking vs. feeling, and judgement vs. perception.  It’s been around for more than half a century and is incredibly popular amongst all sorts of fields, as well as controversial. Chances are that, should you bring this test up with a group of people, someone will start flapping their arms and squawking that the test is invalid and unscientific.

I know very little about the test’s origins, current uses or validity. It seems probable that the test measures things that might be too unquantifiable to be precise, and a common argument is that it’s too much of a cage; people can’t be reduced down to four measurements.

My own opinion is that such a test only means as much as you put store in it, and is descriptive, not prescriptive. The results of such a test might only reflect how you feel at the moment you took the test. But that could be said about any assessment of a personality, so in that case, you might as well throw in the towel all together.

Whatever others may feel, looking at my test results on 16personalities.com felt like aspects of myself had been articulated as I’d never been able to. Even if others disagree, I looked at the quote of a fellow ENTJ (extroverted-intuitive-thinking-judging) and thought, I could have written this:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

-Steve Jobs

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Remember to Smile

In which it is, in fact, worth it.

PK_MikeTo my dear reader,

I am not a fan of vlogs. I don’t think that they’re intrinsically bad, but most vloggers fail to entertain me with their mundane lives. The only real exception I’ve ever found is the channel of Team Pike – a gay couple of PK Creedon and Mike – and I realized this because of a very cheesy music video they made to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You.”

In part, I like the aesthetic value of the focus in each of their videos. Few to none of the channels’ videos show the couple rambling about their everyday lives. Instead, each one focuses on a specific aspect of their lives, such as a family vacation, a video challenge, or a component of their relationship. This provides a purpose which captures my (otherwise very scattered) attention.

I also won’t deny that both are very cute. What can I say? I like ‘em white and suburban.

Not really joking about that one.

What really captured my attention, however, was the fact that both Mike and PK are a little older than most gay male vloggers, and much more mature. Their silliness and humor are constantly balanced with meaningful messages, and they consistently demonstrate a very real, healthy and three-dimensional relationship. Both are extremely different, but in spite of this find common ground.

I have never had any sort of gay male role model, and I’ll admit that I very much wish I had. But seeing these two – especially in this ridiculous music video – made me feel like they were filling that space in a way, and gave me hope that I might one day have a relationship that good.

But if I’ve learned nothing else from them, it is to (as they say at the end of each video) remember to smile… because it’s worth it.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

All That Glitters Is Not Gay

In which Daniel takes inventory of some of his most attractive attributes.

11012854_10206110294570399_7965185417526830877_nTo my dear reader,

The most distinct memories I have of my time visiting Freiburg, Germany was that of a friend taking me to my first gay nightclub. It was a great time for all involved, except for the sober people forced to watch drunk folk gyrating to bad pop remixes, and the straight men still uncomfortable with watching men grind on one another, but I’m not counting those people since I wasn’t among them. The only qualm I had with the whole evening was how I felt looking at the gay men around me.

They were gorgeous. They towered over me with their flawlessly casual hair, enormous biceps and definitive jawlines. They were Olympians and I was a little stick figure with twig arms, saying “Don’t look at me!” Any notion of dancing with a boy was eradicated, and although I still had a great time, I couldn’t help but feel like I was having the door to their glittering life shut in my face.

It’s a common stereotype that gay men are obsessed with appearance, going to the gym/spa/salon religiously. For most gay men that I know, this is about as true as myths that the government is comprised of villainous lizard people (READ: only true in a small number of instances).

Yet whenever I’ve seen large gatherings of gay men, it seems that those within this stereotype outnumber those outside. In spite of how much being a gay man has shaped me, I struggle identifying with the larger gay male community because of my physical “deficiencies” – including but not limited to…

-Small stature, standing up at 5’5” and pocket-sized for your convenience

-A rotund tummy which, for a nickel, you can rub for good luck

-A child sized jaw which makes my face look like the moon

-Enormous, lopsided teeth, which I’ve been told are so large that they should belong in the skull of someone that is 6 feet tall

-Wide, flat hobbit feet, which leave behind footprints that are literally just triangles

-Continuous acne that lends me the eternally youthful appearance of an 11-year-old just beginning puberty

-An unconscious resting bitch face that suggests I am any combination of angry, bored, confused and constipated

I would never claim that the self-image challenges men face are worse than those that women and non-binary folk face. After all, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a magazine cover with a man covered in oil gently caressing his own nipples with a facial expression that either says “Come hither” or “I’m having a gassy fit.”

Yet every time that I listen to Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” or Mary Lambert’s “Body Love,” I can’t help but be a little jealous. Of course, women’s self-image struggles are exacerbated by media and consumerism, but women are speaking – and singing – out against it. Not so with men – I’ll eat my own hobbit feet when I hear a male singer reminding young boys that they are beautiful too.

So keep your height, Glittering Gays of Freiburg. Keep your flawlessly casual hair, enormous biceps and definitive jawlines.  You can have it all, because I have something you’ll never have: definitive knowledge that I am average looking.  While you’re going to the gym/spa/salon religiously, I’ll be over here with my twig arms, in an ugly tank top and flip flops. After all, who’s going to care?

Not me.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

An Open Letter to Mary Lambert

In which Daniel Wolfert and the Seattle-based, bipolar singer-songwriter, spoken word poet Mary Lambert have something in common.


To Mary Lambert,

I would like to think that, across my seven semesters at the University of Puget Sound, I have learned much, yet when I think back, what comes to mind first and foremost is the ability to inconspicuously cry in public. The key is breathing. Few people notice tears, but they notice if your breath becomes uneven. Inconspicuous crying is simply a matter of steady breathing.

I’ve had many opportunities to make use of this ability. As a freshman, when I didn’t have many friends, I would sit in the piano lounge outside of Diversions Café and read all sorts of fiction. Much of it was sad, and made me cry. Much of it was not sad, and still I cried.

One recent opportunity, however, was at your concert on November 6th at the University. I wrote an article about the performance for the student newspaper, The Trail, found here (http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=13138), but it did not describe the moment in the concert that struck me personally. That moment was your poem, “Lay Your Head Down.”

The poem, found in the video below, was your only performance that night that I was not already familiar with. I knew all the songs you played, but this poem took me by surprise, and I found my head in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably.

I admit that my technique was poor. My breathing was ragged, and probably obvious to my fellow audience members. But I could not stop. I cry because you are a rare role model for queer people, and people with mental illness, and women, and all human beings. I cry because no matter how many friends I make, I cannot shake the feeling that I have no friends and I have never had friends and will never have friends. I cry because I want children. I cry because I’m afraid I will never have children.

I cry because the world is so loud. I cry because people do terrible things to one another and I know that this is to be expected and I cry because I know this is to be expected. I cry because there are young men whose hands I wish I could hold and whose shoulders I wish I could cry into. I cry because they could never feel the same way about me. I cry because it’s not their fault, and it’s not mine, but it’s still so unfair to have so much love and no one to give it to.

I cry because I am so blessed to be sitting in this coffee shop overlooking the Puget Sound, and because the world is so big but the horizon is so wide and has been waiting for me to run to it all this time. I cry because, like you, I live so well.

So well.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Not Slytherin, Eh?

In which it’s all here in my head; there’s no doubt about that.


To my dear reader,

One of my earliest memories is not of a sight, but of a sound; namely, the sound of Jim Dale’s voice reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My cassette tapes of the Harry Potter audiobooks were precious treasures to me, and listening to them brought me endless pleasure. The lilt of Jim Dale’s voice, the character he drew from the dialogue, and variety of voices he was capable of fascinated me, inspiring my love for stories and the human voice.

The Harry Potter series has deeply shaped my generation, and like so many of my peers, I asked myself which Hogwarts house I would be sorted into – brave Gryffindor, loyal Hufflepuff, wise Ravenclaw or ambitious Slytherin. Like so many of my peers, I assumed myself to be a Gryffindor. This was, in retrospect, a foolish assumption.

Let us not be too harsh on young Daniel; in those first books of the series, the world seemed so black and white. Gryffindors were the protagonists and heroes – who wouldn’t want to be among them? Gryffindors were courageous and noble – who wouldn’t want to have those qualities?

But as I grew older, I realized how goal-oriented I was. I loved completing tasks, making plans and being in charge. Being in Gryffindor was the stuff of chivalrous heroes, and I had proved myself much too irascible and irreverent to be chivalrous or a hero. Well, I thought, Slytherin seems to fit me like a glove.

It was not until an activity in my current Education 419 class, American Schools Inside and Out, that I questioned this assumption. This was because of a short quiz the class took provided by the company ViaStrengths, which analyzed fairly typical questions about daily organizational habits and work-related practices to give a list of ranked personal strengths. As the list, now posted to my bedroom wall, dictates, my number one was “Love of Learning.”

This quality as my greatest strength explains a great deal. It explains why I identified with the character of Hermione Granger, why I enjoy libraries so, and why I rarely enjoy anything that doesn’t intellectually stimulate me. Lucky me, the professor of this class – Dr. John Woodward – informed us that this trait is considered highly desirable by employers. But this is not why seeing this result pleased me so.

It pleased me because it made me realize that I have always been a Ravenclaw. Trivial or foolish as this realization may seem, it has been of great benefit as I begin the search for that elusive adventure, Adult Life. I can see now that, whatever I do with myself, I can only be happy if I am always learning. As Jim Dale once told me in an audiobook, “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest pleasure…”


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

The Real Enemy

In which the odds are never in our favor.


To my dear reader,

If there is one rule of writing that has stuck with me from my high school creative writing class, it is “Show, don’t tell.” If there is one memorable piece of literature that broke this rule, it is Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy.

The rule “Show, don’t tell” is a way to elicit sophisticated description from writers, ensuring a more tangible world for the reader. If a character is mean, for example, describing them as “mean” sounds juvenile and imprecise. Instead, the writer should show the character making snide remarks about their younger cousin’s only bedraggled doll or framing their mother for second-degree murder. Have the character demonstrate their qualities, and let the reader decide what those qualities are.

Collin’s trilogy broke this rule countless times, much to its detriment. I clearly remember the character Finnick Odair in Catching Fire revealing its infamous President Snow’s murderous past. Rather than actually showing the reader Finnick’s words, however, Collins leaves us with a description of a web of vicious crimes too evil to believe.

Why don’t you tell me what Finnick said, Suzanne, and I’ll decide what’s too evil to believe?

And yet for all its faults, I commend the trilogy for its premise and themes, and more importantly, I commend the film adaptations as elegant, efficient narratives that clarified the relevant themes of the (all too often convoluted) books. With Collin’s heavy-handed, poorly paced narration out of the way, the contrast of extreme poverty in Panem’s districts against the lurid consumerism of Panem’s capital, as well as the trauma of violence on children, came into sharp relief.


It is an incredible shame that the trilogy’s awkward prose, alongside the barrage of other youth-in-dystopia stories, have come between the public and the parallels between Panem and our world. As I write this, Chicago’s government and police department come under ever closer scrutiny in light of the case of Laquan McDonald, twisting ever harder out of systematized responsibility for the seemingly endless police brutality. President Snow would be proud.

But not everyone dismissed the relevance of Collin’s work. At the premiere of the Mockingjay Part 1 film, rumors of the Thailand government banning the film began to circulate. The reason, rumors went, was a scene in which the impoverished masses of one of Panem’ districts ban together in a suicidal mission to destroy the dam that supplies Panem’s capital with power. Fearful that the movie would inspire rebellion, just as Katniss inspired the districts, the Thai government removed the film from theaters.

I am not suggesting that the villain of our story is the government. It is not the president, or every policeman. It is not every white person, or every black person, or everyone that is neither black nor white. It is not Syrian refugees or Muslims or Russians or Chinese. It is the President Snows of the world, who make others’ lives their toys so that they never have to play in the Hunger Games.

Remember who the real enemy is.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Not In My Blood

In which Daniel misses his kitchen, and it has nothing to do with his ethnicity.


To my dear reader,

The first question posed at the Men of Color Club’s Adjusting to Life at Puget Sound Open Discussion was “What do you miss about home?” Although a seemingly unassuming question, the implication to the twenty-odd university students, of a multitude of ethnicities, was clear: “Did you miss your home culture when you arrived at a school so dominated by white students and faculty?” Most answers responded to this implication, expressing a yearning for students’ home languages and habits. My answer was “my kitchen’.

This inevitably made some people laugh and some people uncomfortable. The people that laughed probably thought that I was being cute or silly, while the people that became uncomfortable probably thought I was being disrespectful or rude. None of these things are true.

I miss my kitchen because that is where I might find my golden retriever laying on the floor, waiting for me to use her tummy as a pillow. That is where my mother and I once tried (and spectacularly failed) to make a German Black Forest Cake, and where one of my sisters and I took turns playing the video game Skyrim on her laptop. That is where I have sat to watch the wind through the treetops in the back yard, and where I have written some of my best fiction, and where I used to go first thing in the morning for a cup of Irish Breakfast Tea. This is the nature of my kitchen.

Of course these things are not irrelevant to my ethnicity – or more specifically, from that of my white father. He is an incredibly intelligent, extremely hard working biomedical research director that may have never achieved his place in his profession were he not white. So many of the wonderful memories I have of my kitchen at home would not be possible if my family was not reasonably well-off, and we would not be well-off if my father was not such an incredibly intelligent, extremely hard working man that society had rewarded, and society would not be nearly as willing to reward my father were he not the ethnicity he is. This is not his fault. This is the nature of our world.

Yet at the same time, what I miss from home has nothing to do with my ethnicity. I say this because none of things I mentioned have to do with Eastern European culture or Filipino culture. My parents were raised by their parents to be American, not to have the cultures of their ancestors. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, but as a real thing. My grandparents all thought, “If I raise my child to be a good American, then they will have a better chance at being a successful one too.”

My father’s forefathers came across the Atlantic from somewhere distant and cold where the soup was probably thick and the socks probably thicker. My mother’s forefathers came across the Pacific from somewhere where the sun was probably bright and the flowers probably brighter. But I am an American; I know Thanksgiving stuffing, and Tylor Swift’s 1989 album, and that New York is allegedly a place of great dreams and skyscrapers but also of great disappointment and overcrowded apartments. I have no more right to claim Eastern European or Filipino culture as mine than a Brazilian does Norwegian culture. It is not in my blood; it was in my ancestor’s lives, and is not in mine.

I am certain that those cultures are completely beautiful and fascinating in their own right. But they are not what has defined me. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, but a real thing. This is the nature of my identity.

I stand by my answer of “my kitchen,” because although I respect the Men of Color Club, I will not identify myself by the pigmentation of my epidermis or the daily practices of ancestors I will never know, even if others will. The lack of cultural and ethnic diversity at this university truly must be discussed, and the dialogue fostered by the open discussion is important and truly must happen. But I will participate as a student and an American and an empathetic human that cares with a heart as wide as a cosmos, and not as a “person of color.”

It matters not to me what my ancestors did or where they came from; it matters what I do and where I am going.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

What Big Teeth You Have

In which we are faced with the curious knock of the wolf at the door.


To my dear reader,

If you were to ask me about one thing in my life that I truly cared about, one of my first responses would be my pet Golden Retriever, Cinnamon Buns Flores Wolfert. Dogs are, America tells us, man’s best friend. But sometime last summer, I got to thinking about how curious of a view this is. It’s not one that has always existed, as there was once a time when dogs’ predecessors – wolves – were a force to be feared and reckoned with. It’s certainly not one that all people share – as dog cuisine in countries such as China make evident. This is not to criticize such countries, but rather to consider the question, why do I so love an animal whose ancestors tried to gobble up Little Red Riding Hood? It is to answer this question that, over this past summer, I read Richard Francis’ Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World



Francis’ non-fictional exploration behind the biological, evolutionary and anthropological precedence of domestication is built primarily upon one premise: that domestication is the process of perpetuating tameness in a species. Tameness, Francis asserts, has been continually demonstrated in both studies and animal industry to be something that necessitates a genetic predisposition. Most wild animals are predisposed to fear and dislike heavy contact with one another and with humans, contrasting with the such domesticated creatures as attention-loving Golden Retrievers and tightly-quartered cows. Perpetuating tameness comes down to two, non-exclusive processes: commensalism and breeding. Both occurred on the journey from wolf and dog.

Commensalism – a relationship between individuals of two species in which one species obtains food or other benefits from the other without either harming or benefiting the latter –  is often the first step of domestication. This was the origins of dogs when thousands of years ago, wolves stood as our most formidable competitors to be top of the food chain. Much like humans, wolves are social, hierarchical, and strategic. This pack-animal intelligence led to the more human-tolerant wolves to realize that they could scavenge humans’ scraps if they stayed near human settlements. Several generations later, the human-tolerant wolves survived more easily and passed along their tolerant genes, while the intolerant ones died more often and reproduced less.

Fast forward many more generations, and humans tentatively befriended the beasts that we once so feared. “If you can’t beat them”, said nature to the wolves, “join them,” and so they became our tentative hunting companions. It was not until humans began to breed them – to control wolf reproduction, allowing only the friendliest of wolves to mate – that true tameness became genetically ingrained. The perpetuation of human tolerance came with its own genetic package that can be found in almost every domesticated animal: one which includes things such as baby-like facial features, increased empathy, and quickened sexual maturity. This essentially meant the perpetuation of youthful characteristics into adulthood.



But how curious this all is! Let us take a moment to really, truly, consider the journey from wolf to dog. So many of the Western world’s fairy tales and legends include some sort of wolf as a villain. Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother get eaten by one, the Three Little Pigs’ property is invaded and damaged by one, and a professor of Hogwarts School of Witchcrft and Wizardry is cursed to become one at the full moon. Wolves are, so it seems, devious and terrible creatures intent on the worst. This is not to praise or criticize with this common Western view, but rather to contrast it with the view of dogs impressed on us now. Dogs are, so they say, intelligent beyond expectation and loyal to a fault.  Dogs are, in a way, a testament to the power that humans have to shape nature.

Once more, this is not to praise or criticize the fact. It is rather that I find it so terribly curious how Cinnamon Buns Flores Wolfert and I are so happy to see one another, despite the fact that, were I to come home to a wolf, I would be terrified (and so might the wolf). I love her because long ago, my ancestors bred love into her ancestors’ very blood, and her ancestors were brought to their knees. All this, after all that time, when they said

Knock knock knock, let me in, let me in

and we said

Not by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

How Lovely You Are

In which Daniel is possibly brave or possibly foolish, or both, or neither.


To my dear reader,

The first time I realized that I liked a boy was in 4th grade. I was an awkward, unsociable child, and my 4th grade teacher was aware of this. When a boy from another school transferred into my homeroom class, she took the opportunity to force me to play with him.

Begrudgingly, we went out to the soccer field together during recess and, against both our wills, began to play with a Frisbee. My first throw went wildly amiss, forcing him to run across the field to catch it, and this is the moment that became burned in my mind – the boy sprinting, the sun turning the field into an ocean of precious light around him.

Of course, it was not like this, but this is the truth I created. I watched, transfixed, as he leapt to catch the Frisbee, and I childishly thought something like this:

How lovely you are.

I love you.

I did not, of course, love him. The boy made other friends, and I have long since forgotten those feelings. But what matters is that this was when I was suddenly, horribly aware of how he could never feel this way about me; how this fact would come crushing down upon me forever. This was, I think, when I began to become clinically depressed.


“How terribly young you were!” some exclaim. “How can you know that you were clinically depressed at such an age?”

I can never know for certain. But for those that wish to apportion blame for my inaction, give it to my love of fantasy. I assumed that the shuddering nausea with me from morning to night was simply the symptom of a hero waiting to be chosen for adventure. Surely, I thought, a giant will knock on my door or a witch will appear on my windowsill. If only I wait, my story will begin and I will not feel as if I am drowning every moment of every day.

But I confess that I was wrong. No giants knocked or witches appeared and every moment of every day was like drowning. I remember waking up on a school day 15 minutes past my alarm, and bursting into panicked tears. Surely I will be late, I thought, and then I shall be punished and I shall do poorly in school because that is what happens to children who are late. And then once I no longer have academic success I will have nothing but my books and this terrible feeling of drowning that never leaves me.

My mother did her best to console me, but we both knew perfectly well that I could arrive at school on time. Still, I cried.


I recently learned from the video linked below that a curious effect of depression is that it shrinks the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotions. This effectively causes many depressed people to lose both clear memory and clear emotions. Everything, effectively, becomes a gray fog – and this is exactly what I felt.

I researched depression ravenously, but despite this knowledge, was certain that, somehow, my depression would simply fade. If not in elementary school, then in middle school. If not in middle school, then in high school, college, when I learned to play piano, when I did well on my SAT or ACT or something else inane and trivial. Practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent. Repeat the same mistakes over again and they become who you are.

I distanced myself from it. Every time I would cry for no reason or wake up in the middle of the night in inexplicable panic, I thought, this is simply chemical imbalance in your brain, not who you are. But so much of me went into separating who I thought I was from what I thought I wasn’t that it didn’t matter; I became it anyway.

Coming into my final year at college, I had become aware of how much time I had squandered. I could not bear to let this last year go to waste. My appointment at the university’s Counseling, Health and Wellness Services on Thursday, October 1st, 2015 marked the first time that I sought professional help. This, then, was the story I had been waiting for, and there was no one to choose me but myself.


I often feel guilty, given my fortune. I have a loving family, a plump dog, a good education, and more tea than I could possibly drink. I am a gay, multi-ethnic Jew with opportunity – in most other times and places I would be ostracized or persecuted. Others have faced much worse than I and fared better. But this is the nature of depression; no matter my fortune, it is always there – the most dependable thing in my life.

But I am not here to be sad or angry or guilty. I am here to say that this is a real part of me that has existed since that day in 4th grade. To deny it would be foolish and wrong. Surely, there will be readers who cry out that my words are untrue or dangerous, that I exaggerate my sadness or simply seek attention. For those people, I have no words. My time is too precious to waste on them.

For everyone else, I will say this: my experience is one of many, so I claim no universality. I simply claim that I find truth preferable to lies. I simply claim that those who listen are few and far between, and if you are one, know that you are as precious as light. I have chosen this story for you.

How lovely you are.

I love you.


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Between Love and Hegemony

In which Daniel bids farewell to the United States of America, as well as his penultimate year of college.


To my dear reader,

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a collection of short stories and poems by Cathrynne M. Valente, all written during or inspired by her time spent as a Navy wife in Japan. It was the last book I read while in Tacoma, Washington, and was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I’ve read in several months. The intricacies of its cultural reference, alongside the wide array of emotions and topics the stories traverse, paint a colorful and fascinating picture of her conception of the nation. In the book’s afterword, however, the author discussed her trepidation in writing about a culture which was not hers, and to which she held so much respect:

“To write of a country, a culture, a world that is not your own is an act, forever and always balanced between love and hegemony. I have tried to err on the side of love.”

Upon reading this, I was suddenly and forcibly reminded of my freshman year writing seminar. It was a class focused on travel writing the act of “othering” – viewing and altering perceptions of other cultures or groups as alien – and much of the class was spent examining writings Europeans and Americans had done on other places. Over and over again in those writings, Europeans and Americans colored their perspective with their own enculturated values and ideals, condemning different societies, exoticizing foreign women and displaying contempt for other cultures.

Ms. Valente has done, I believe, a marvelous job of treating the Japanese culture with respect. Her use of Japanese folklore and religious ideologies is insightful and meaningful, while still remaining accessible to English-speaking audiences. But this book, and that line in the afterward specifically, has remained with me because in two days, I will be departing to study abroad in Italy.

How much of study abroad is comprised of othering, I wonder? Are students from America usually seen as a form of education hegemony? What will never been mine to hold, no matter how much time I spend there? I will be there to study the intersection of Italian music and literature. What will I miss when I inevitably look at this intersection through American eyes?

I once took a composition class outside of Puget Sound with a teacher that was not a lover of world music. “Many modern composers,” he said, “have taken to using ‘ethnic’ music to spice up their compositions… silly, really.” I was initially shocked and upset that he’d said this. By saying that other culture’s music were “ethnic” he was implying that the compositions of European and American composers were effectively “real” music, and that the music of all other cultures was a tool to be used, or otherwise negligible. At the same time, however, he had a point: many composers today do use other culture’s music as a spice for their own compositions.

I suppose that the difference between doing this with love and doing this with hegemony is a question of attitude. Writing music inspired by or based on another culture’s music – much like writing inspired by or based on another culture’s writing – can be done with respect and admiration for that culture, or it can be done with disdain and disregard for that other culture. I suppose that the difference is that love is creating something on that other culture on its terms, and hegemony is creating something on your culture’s terms. As I study music and literature in Italy this summer, I shall try, as Ms. Valente, to err on the side of the former.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert