On the Docket

In which Daniel lists the ten most important things he must do during the last free summer (possibly) of his life.

To do list written on paper with blue pen

To my dear reader,

With graduation one day away, I am coming to see that I have one real summer – from now to mid-August – to do whatever I please with. That isn’t to say one real summer to waste time – on the contrary, once I start really working, it’s more likely that I’ll waste my free time than now when I can put all my free time to good use. Therefore, below are ten things of priority for me to make happen in the next three months.

  1. Play the video game Oblivion – This is the prequel to the video game Skryim, which my sister Hannah and I played sporadically across nine months together. Since the game is older, the graphics will probably be awful. I’m so excited. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.
  2. Make DwolfMakesMusic, my Youtube channel and Soundcloud Page for my original music, look professional – That shit is a hot mess.
  3. Find a job for when I move back up to Tacoma in mid-August – I hear that’s important, although then again, I hear a lot of things.
  4. Cook something interesting and new twice a week for two months – If you read the description in my blogger profile, I describe myself as a “mediocre chef.” It’s pretty true. Let’s change that.
  5. Watch the new season of the ABC Family drama The Fosters – Five days ago, freshman Ivin Yu starting watching this in the basement of my house and across the next four days, about fifteen people could be found at any given moment in the basement watching with (or without) him. The Fosters is love. The Fosters is life.
  6. Go to some sort of LGBTQI event out there in the real world – I’ve been slacking in this department for the past twenty-one years. Better late than never, right?
  7. Go beat up North Carolina governor Pat McCrory – Patrick, if you didn’t read my last post about you (http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2016/04/10/an-open-letter-to-pat-mccrory/), you really should do so. And then you should run, because you’re in for a world of hurt.
  8. Read Cathrynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home –This is the last book in her Fairyland series, of which I read the first at the end of my freshman year. They guided me through college, and will thus guide me away.
  9. Use my dog as a pillow – This might be more important than Oblivion. Unsure.
  10. Start finding another way to get my writing out in the big, bad world – I do, after all, only have one more blog for the University after this.

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

Teach by Deed

In which Daniel considers the mentors of basketball coach John Wooden, as well as his own.


To my dear reader,

I have always had an aversion to sports. There are many reasons for this, among them my small physical stature, my lack of bodily coordination, my distrust of the concept of “teamwork,” and the negative dissonance between social constructions of athleticism and homosexuality. But despite all of these reasons, a figure that has begun to loom large over my life is that of John Wooden, now late basketball coach, literature teacher, and author.

Alongside his remarkable achievements in the field of athletics, including leading the UCLA Bruins to ten championships in his time as coach, Wooden has become incredibly well known as a fountain of wisdom on the subjects of teamwork, discipline and life over all. It is only after reading his book A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring have I truly realized how much he has been an “invisible mentor” – a teacher that I have never met but has continually guided me through his writings and teachings – and all in spite of my initial trepidation.

This got me thinking about the role of mentors within my life, and who they have been thus far. In his writing, Wooden made a point of saying that mentors need not be people that one has necessarily met, but I believe that this principle extends farther: mentors need not even be real people. I have certainly felt more mentored by many fictional people than by the real people in my life, and the effects of this are no less valid or real. Thus came to be the following list of the seven most prominent mentors of my life:

1. Katy Perry


“If stars don’t align, if it doesn’t stop time, if you can’t see the sign, wait for it.”

I first truly came in contact with Katy Perry’s music during the end of my senior year of high school. I had decided, on a whim, to put her Teenage Dream album on my iPod, and sharing this album with Spencer Orbegozo – a classmate that was destined to become my best friend – was, unwittingly, one of the best decisions of my life. This album became the cornerstone of our friendship, and came to me at a time when I needed something that would propel my into the future. The simple, optimistic beauty of the line “Let’s run away, and don’t ever look back” encapsulates all the joyful momentum that I do not possess, but wish to have. Alongside opening me up to the world of trashy pop (an inexhaustible source of joy for me), Katy Perry taught me to look to the future with hope.

2.Tina Fey


“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.

If there is one mentor on this list that I am most similar to, it is undoubtedly Tina Fey. In her genius autobiography Bossypants, Miss Fey cites strong parental influence, bad skin, and love of musical theater as the driving forces of her life – if that doesn’t describe my life, what does? But more than simply providing me with a famous face to identify with, Tina Fey (and Bossypants itself) demonstrated the ability to laugh at one’s failures and find humor in the endless drudgery of life. Tina Fey taught me to accept my own disastrous self.

3. Uncle Iroh


“Destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

Being the most fictional of my mentors, it is somewhat more difficult to explain how this character from the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender has affected me. Avatar was only one of many fascinations I held as a child, the others including the works of Lemony Snicket and the Harry Potter series, yet no character in those other stories held as much sway over me as Iroh. Across the TV series, Iroh acts as the protective uncle and gentle guide to the series’ troubled antihero (his nephew), providing comic relief and wise perspective in equal measure. But it was the humanity of Iroh that really struck me. Iroh became angry at his nephew when his nephew was too prideful, became weary from his turbulent life, and became hungry more or less constantly. Iroh taught me not only to love tea, but also life, with good humor and perspective.

4. Tarn Wilson

“Write the book you would want to read.”

When I first joined her creative writing class in my junior year of high school, Tarn Wilson was merely another very nice and intelligent teacher employed by Gunn High School. After I turned in an autobiographical work describing some serious emotional troubles, however, Ms. Wilson called me into her office and had me speak with her to ensure I was emotionally healthy. Tarn Wilson taught me many suprising and insightful things about writing itself, but taught me even more about the act of creation – creating a story and creating a life. Life will not appear, she explained, until you do – not your parents or teachers or friends or even mentors, but you. Tarn Wilson taught me that my life is a story, and I must learn to be its author.

5. Cathrynne M. Valente


“As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”

I recently wrote a blog post detailing my feelings toward science fiction and fantasy author Cathrynne M. Valente, which can be found here (http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/04/01/an-open-letter-to-catherynne-m-valente/), but to get to the heart of what I mean to say, it is crucial to understand my first experience with her writing. I first discovered her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making the summer after my freshman year of college, and just like Teenage Dream, this book came to me at a time when I very much needed magic in my life. Over and over again in her literary works, Miss Valente has demonstrated a delicate mastery of intelligence, whimsy, humor and sensitivity that I can only dream of one day achieving. Cathrynne M. Valente taught me to find magic in all facets of life.

6. John Wooden


“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

By far the most pragmatic of my mentors, basketball coach John Wooden was introduced to me through my fraternity’s leadership program, the Wooden Institute. What struck me most about Wooden when I learned of him was his dedication to organization. Something that Wooden is famous for is his process of teaching new players the proper way to put on socks. He would ensure that the socks fit on snugly and without wrinkles, and that the laces were pulled and tied firmly, so as to avoid loose shoes, and therefore, blisters. This would ensure greater comfort during practice, leading to more better practice technique and ultimately better training. Many, if not all, of Wooden’s accomplishments demonstrate his commitment to quality, but this simple and tangible action demonstrated this to me the most. John Wooden taught me dedication to performing effective work.

7. Spencer Orbegozo

“There truly is no me without you.”

Of all my mentors, the one with the most powerful, immediate, lasting and obvious impact on me is my best friend. After spending a year in freshman Physical Education together during high school, we overcame our initial dislike for one another. This tentative peace became a tentative friendship, which eventually became the bond that remains to this day. Spencer and I call one another every other weekend, and periodically write letters of extreme length and detail to one another. He has taught me more things than I can count, and more than I’m sure I could actually recall, but more than anything, Spencer has taught me to believe in the worth of oneself no matter how others think. Spencer taught me, in the words of Gladys Knight and the Pips (a band he is fond of), to “keep on keepin’ on.”

And that’s just what I’ll do.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

An Open Letter to Catherynne M. Valente

In which Daniel’s favorite author is the glorious sun, too bright to be near for too long, and he is the distant moon, only able to quietly reflect her brilliance at best.


To Ms. Valente,

It is, in truth, to the University of Puget Sound that I owe my admiration for your work. I came upon the first book in your Fairyland series, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, at the end of my first year of college while perusing the school’s bookstore. “What a delightful looking book,” I thought to myself (completely judging a book by its cover, as I am so prone to doing). “I think this would be a rather fitting reward to myself for surviving my first year at college.” Unable to resist, I bought the book and began to read it on my journey back to my home in North Carolina.

Immediately I was smitten. The difficult part is to say exactly why. The best explanation I can think of is this:

Have you ever been hungry for something and couldn’t say what it was? You wander around the kitchen of your house, opening the refrigerator and freezer and cupboards and drawers over and over again. Each time, you hope that your search will reveal what you’ve a hankering for, and each time, you are disappointed. But somehow, you continue along the way and happen to take a bite of something unexpected. Immediately, you realize that this is what your hunger has wanted all along.

Reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated for the first time was like that first bite. The love I’ve always had for both the possibilities of fiction and the nuances of language was suddenly reignited, and my mind came alive with new ideas and stories of my own. They say that you are what you eat, and swallowing up your words made in me something just as witty and sad and hilarious and timeless.

It was to my complete surprise when, over a 2 AM snack with a housemate, I was informed that you would be the closing keynote speaker at the science-fiction conference that the university was hosting – “The Once and Future Antiquity: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Fantasy” – on March 27th and 28th, 2015. The conference was to entail a series of lectures about how Ancient Roman and Greek culture have affected and shaped modern speculative fiction. I feel no shame in saying that I curled up on the kitchen floor in ecstasy. It’s fine. Let’s not discuss it.

The clever emblem of the University's international "Once and Future Antiquity"  Convention.

The clever emblem of the University’s international “Once and Future Antiquity” Convention.

This joy was nothing compared to the actual act of watching you speak before me. It’s funny how someone you’ve always imagined can be both so much like and so much unlike what you’ve imagined them to be. You were just as funny, just as offhandedly charming and unconventionally inviting as I anticipated. You were much shorter than I thought you would be. Your voice was also much deeper. What you explained over the course of your keynote address, however, was something that I should have understood but had never considered: that you are so heavily influenced by classics.

Ms. Valente giving her keynote address to a packed audience in the Tahoma Room of the University of Puget Sound.

Ms. Valente giving her keynote address to a packed audience in the Tahoma Room of the University of Puget Sound.

It is here that I am at a disadvantage. My knowledge of classics is limited to the point of being nonexistent. I am vaguely aware that the stories and myths of Greek and Roman civilization have been passed down through the generations of Western culture. I am vaguely aware that each time they have appeared, they have been transformed and reinterpreted, like a game of telephone. But I don’t know exactly what they are or what they meant to those cultures in their time.

During your keynote address, you explained many fascinating things. These included how you saw your childhood traveling between parents as a transformation of the Persephone myth, how your distinctive prose style initial arose from knowledge of multiple languages, and how your author superpower is that you are capable of writing remarkably quickly. What struck me most, however, is that when you were writing your first novel Labyrinth, you never considered it fiction because in the time of Ancient Greece, those myths were considered fact. Every story has mysterious labyrinths housing hungry minotaur, but it is mostly in fantasy fiction that these take their most obvious form. A minotaur might take the form of a librarian, or a principal, or a unpleasant waitress in other fiction, but the audience might not know that.

I doubt that you will ever read this.In some ways, I hope that you never do, so that the hour and a half I spent watching you lecture, meeting you and stealing the briefest of hugs from you will remain untarnished in my memory. In some ways, I hope that you will somehow stumble upon this, or that a friend will present it to you with a laugh, and that you will read it and be reminded of such a strange young man that did so love your children’s stories. Mostly, however, I just wanted to write this for my own sake.

Me attempting to maintain my composure beside Ms. Valente.

Me attempting to maintain my composure beside Ms. Valente.

On one of the pages of my commonplace – a sort of intellectual logbook for quotable passages and facts – which I showed you, there is a page devoted solely to quotes from The Girl Who Circumnavigated. Each time I read the book, it never fails to entertain and touch me, but of all the wonderful passages I’ve copied down, the following is the one that struck me most, and to this day remains with me:

“As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.”


With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert