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.
In which Daniel says something nice about Greek Life (and Ariana Grande).
NOTE: No opinion expressed here is meant to represent the University of Puget Sound, any of its faculty, students or staff, any of its internal organizations, Beta Theta Pi, any Greek house, or Greek Life as a whole. They are solely meant to express personal views that I hold which may change in the future.
To my dear reader,
Earlier this year, the student newspaper, The Trail, published an article about Greek Life at the University of Puget Sound (which can be read here: http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=12732). While the article was meant to be an impartial assessment of the state of fraternities and sororities at the school, I found the article to be somewhat pointed, implying that certain houses within our Greek system – if not the entire system – are flawed. The article left me with the impression that its writers were looking at Greek Life from a critical standpoint, but not necessarily with the intention of balancing out the examination of Greek Life’s cons with its pros.
I believe this to be understandable. Questioning our systems of social structure and power are crucial to improving them. But reading the article as a member of Greek Life (the fraternity Beta Theta Pi) made me realize that I have spent more time and energy examining Greek Life’s faults and discussing them with the wider community than appreciating its virtues and explaining them to the wider community. Of course there are many deep and enduring problems to correct, but time must be taken to say what is good alongside what it not. And because of the way the chips have fallen, and because the universe is sly and underhanded, there is no better way to do this than through Ariana Grande.
Allow me to explain myself:
During my first three semesters as a Beta – my entire sophomore year and the first semester as a junior – I was extremely skeptical. The concept of fraternities was one that left a sour taste in my mouth, and in some ways, still does. History classes have left me with the impression that groups of primarily white, primarily middle-to-upper-class, primarily heterosexual and almost certainly cis-gender men don’t tend to be terribly nice. Being the ones that most benefit from Western social structures, they can believe their value and worth to be intrinsic, and become very defensive if they feel that is being questioned. I don’t mean to attack people matching such a description; this is merely what history has suggested to me.
Beyond this idealistic skepticism, however, I held the more personal skepticism of the very concept of “community.” Why was I to give trust and respect to a group of people I barely knew out of principle? Weren’t they meant to be earned? I would never expect someone to trust or respect me until they got to know me better – and even then, maybe not.
It’s not that the members of Beta themselves did anything wrong in all that time. They were perfectly nice, well-meaning, intelligent men that wanted the best for the colony. But I’ve always been poor with interpersonal relationships, and I was growing weary of devoting so much time and energy to something in which I had so little investment. By the end of December of 2014, I had my heart set on leaving.
But the universe, being sly and underhanded, prevented me from burning the bridge then and there because I had already signed up to attend the Wooden Institute, a leadership program run by the General Fraternity. Cursing myself for paying the registration fee, I begrudgingly attended in January of 2015. The universe, being sly and underhanded, brought me to the program so that it could change my life.
Those who desire may read about it here: http://blogs.pugetsound.edu/whatwedo/2015/02/17/darling-were-a-nightmare-dressed-like-a-daydream/
Fast forward to the beginning of the spring semester and I told my brothers about Wooden. I had nothing but praise for it, but attending forced me to voice a complaint about out colony – namely, that I had grown closer to my brothers at Wooden in three days faster than my brothers at Puget Sound in three semesters. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought the rambunctious powerhouse of a person named Jake Ashby to me, insistent on rectifying the problem Wooden had illuminated to me. With all the subtlety of a wrecking ball, Jake Ashby barreled into my life and planted himself as a face both abrasively insistent and endlessly supportive.
But what does this have to do with Ariana Grande, you ask?
Patience, dear reader. All in good time…
A week or so into the new semester, I was hunting through some music that my sister had sent, which included several songs by that Princess of Pop Sopranos, Ms. Grande. I was not immediately thrilled by them, but was entertained enough that I considered finding more of her music. Oddly enough, I had spoken to another Beta, a fellow junior named Rae Hermosillo Torres, about Ms. Grande’s music and how much we indulgently enjoyed her, and so I stopped by his room one day and asked him if he could give me her two albums. Gracious man that he is he obliged with gusto. And the universe, being sly and underhanded, brought him too into my life as a face both unexpectedly warm and unceasingly friendly.
Ray Hermosillo Torres, left, Jake Ashby, right.
The remainder of the semester occurred as it did. There were trials plentiful, and enough tribulation to bury me alive. I drowned my sorrows in half-price Frappucinos during Starbucks’ Frappucino Happy Hour, and spent more nights without sleep than ever before. I fought valiantly to keep my grades high and less valiantly to take care of my health, and generally panicked about things that didn’t matter. But at the end of the day, the universe, being sly and underhanded, gave me two brilliant albums by Ariana Grande, a group of brothers at Puget Sound of which I’ve grown tremendously fond, and a blog on which I can write about it all. At the end of the day, I remember walking back to the Beta House after all my classes and rehearsals were done, exhausted and worn out, with Ariana Grande’s “Baby I” playing on my iPod, glad that I was heading home.
This is not all to criticize The Trail itself or to say that The Trail’s article is not valid. It is filled with completely accurate points about the state of Greek Life and ways in which it needs to improve and became more safe and inclusive. Sexual assault is absolutely a problem that must be solved; Greek Life must be made inclusive to minorities; the gender binary that Greek Life perpetuates must be faced. I don’t want to say whether it’s all pointless or good or bad. I don’t have enough experience, knowledge or wisdom to say if Greek Life is intrinsically problematic or not. Nor is it my place to say. But I don’t want to discuss only the faults. I don’t want to just say what’s wrong when good things are happening too.
All I’m trying to say is that maybe there might be something good about Greek Life. I’m trying to say that Beta is, in all truth, the most positive force that has yet occurred in my tiny life. But why should I say anything when Ariana Grande could do it for me?