April 27, 2011 - 10:03 AM
Last week we had the amazing experience of having two guest speakers from Northern Ireland visit the University of Oregon. Professor Shaul Cohen in the Geography department is an expert on conflict transformation in Northern Ireland. His researched has focused on space in the religious/ethnic conflict of the past several decades as the British/Protestant members of Northern Ireland have clashed with the Catholic/Irish.
Anna and Nigel are both from the town of Derry/Londonderry. Both are involved in the current peace processes, but both still identify strongly with one side of the conflict, and were therefore able to bring their current perspectives as well as their intimate knowledge of the Troubles to their Oregon audiences. Nigel is Protestant, and was involved in the British military forces during the troubles. His story includes the experience of terrorism against himself and his colleagues at the hands of the IRA and other Catholic paramilitary groups. Now he is involved both in efforts at peacemaking between the communities, as well as being a member of a political party (and is actually standing for election on May 5th). Anna is younger, and was a child at the heart of the violence. She grew up Catholic, surrounded by the low-level violence of being surrounded by military helicopters and British soldiers on the street corners where she grew up. She works for a prominent peace organization in Derry, and was my friend Madeline's boss while she was interning for the summer and fall.
Professor Cohen brings speakers to Oregon each year. Their value in understanding ethnic conflict and responding to long-term violence is enormous. They speak to the depth and pain of the conflict, as well as to the promise and frustrations of peacemaking.
Anna and Nigel spent an evening at the Oregon State Penitentiary with the Inside-Out class I am co-leading with Professor Cohen. After studying the conflict for five months, we finally had voices in the classroom, expressing the depth of the conflict. Our class gathered, as usual, half outside (UO) students and half inside students. We sat in a circle, sitting every-other seat in a mixed classroom. But then, instead of turning to one another to discuss the material and engage in dialogue, we faced our visitors and listened to their stories.
What a profound thing it is to hear stories of pain directly from the participant. Both visitors spoke first about their experiences at the peak of the violence. Nigel spoke about losing colleagues to assassination and torture, even going so far as to describe the day he had to use a shovel to scoop up the remains of a policeman whose car had been blown up. His pain was obvious, as was the depth of his conviction that it was essential to move forward, away from violence and retribution, into some kind of integrated and peaceful society. Anna spoke about the fear she experienced, and the distrust she felt in the police and the authorities, and the way she was raised to know that she, and the others in the Catholic minority, were the victims of state oppression and discrimination. Anna and Nigel also performed a role play for the class, taking on the attitudes and patterns of a "militant member of their communities." It was shocking how fast our polite and educated visitors devolved into snarling, swearing combatants, bringing up accusation after accusation against the other party, and even launching a clear threat (Anna: "Do you still check under your car every morning, Nigel? I know where you live.") It seems that, even those who are working for peace, are still very able to access the bitterness of the conflict.
Both Anna and Nigel expressed their hope that things were moving toward permanent peace, and their profound fear that their country would slip back into violence. The day after our class, a parcel bomb was intercepted on the way to a prominent Catholic sports figure. The violence is not so far distant.
For our class, this visit was of inestimable value. It brought the conflict alive, and into our classroom. We had the chance to ask questions and to see faces, and to hear the way that direct and structural violence shaped both their lives. As our class came to an end, we took a moment to go around the circle and each speak to the value of our meeting that day. The overwhelming sense in the room was one of gratitude. What we expressed was the profound sense that our studies had come alive and spoken with us: that we were looking into the face of the conflict in the past, present, and future. We were asking those questions that were hard to ask, and receiving such levels of honesty that it was nearly painful.
As we move forward with this course, I imagine we will be able to access a new kind of understanding. The conflict in Northern Ireland can feel so distant, and so difficult to understand. But now we have heard how it is all tied up with identity and human needs, and the dispute of governance and authority. It has everything to do with history and the long experience of violence, fear, and the need of cultural expression.
In our classroom, we now have a sense of both the mechanisms of the conflict, and the challenges of peace. With elections in Northern Ireland a week away, this is an exciting time to come into deeper understanding of the conflict. And with the similarities manifest between that conflict and many other contemporary examples of ethnic tensions and low-level violence around the world, the insights gained are of profound interest to me.
As a final example of just how relevant and sustained these kinds of conflict can be, this week we were unable to debrief Nigel and Anna's visit with our Inside-Out class. On Easter a large fight broke out at the prison, involving eighty-one people and resulting in the locking down of the entire prison. The fight began as a verbal argument between two individuals, but rocketed into a brawl because of the tensions of the surroundings and the history of conflict between groups on the inside. It only took moments for the conflict to escalate from verbal altercation to racially motivated brawl.
As Anna and Nigel demonstrated in their role play: history is very near in many ways, and conflict remains a very present threat.
April 24, 2011 - 4:26 PM
This has been the best Easter weekend ever.
I spoke with my aunt last Sunday, and she mentioned that several cousins would be in Denver for Easter, including my cousin Lindsay, who is getting married in September. The fiance would be there, too. This would be my one chance to meet Nick before he married Lindsay, and the first time such a large concentration of cousins had been at a holiday in a long, long time.
So I booked a flight! I came home for the weekend without telling anyone but my aunt and cousin Paul. He picked me up from the airport and took me to my dad's house, where a sneaky text from aunt Michelle had kept him at home for Friday night. So I had the enormous joy of ringing the doorbell of my old house, and seeing my dad's face when he saw me standing there. It was so, so fun.
I spent the evening hanging out with him and our neighbors, catching up and feeling very smug about my surprise. Then Saturday morning I called my mom with cheerful stories of my Eugene weekend plans, and asked what she had planned for the day. When she said she would be working out sometime later in the morning, I got off the phone fast and my dad drove me over to surprise her. This time it was even better: her front door was unlocked and I got to walk halfway into her house before she even knew I was there!
The final surprise was today, when my grandmother came over for Easter dinner. Gran Fran will be turning 92 this summer, and is still as smart and as independent as ever. She still lives in the house where my father grew up, and is busy creating her life as she best sees fit--cooking food for her neighbors, keeping track of her family, painting, reading, and gardening. The woman is a force of nature. And it was so fun to walk down the stairs to greet her and hear her say "Katie, my gosh you weren't supposed to be here!"
I love being sneaky.
The weekend was perfect all around. I went to the Denver Botanical Gardens with my mom, and walked around for hours. We hung out in Downtown as well, and then did some gardening. I also got to see the beautiful condo she just bought, which is in a neighborhood she's been a part of as a renter for a year, and where she is surrounded by wonderful neighbors. Now she will even have a view: both mountains and a lake, which is a premium in Colorado.
Dad and I went out on Saturday night to meet Lindsay, Nick, and Paul for drinks. It was so fun! Both Lindsay and Nick work in the film industry in Hollywood. Lindsay is a Production Coordinator, and Nick is an up-and-coming writer/director. Their wedding this September will be the first family wedding for my generation. I am so thrilled by how happy they are, and to know such a wonderful pair of people.
I also got to watch The Office with my dad, go to church with my mom (and see some folks I hadn't seen in years!) and generally enjoy being home. The only part of the weekend that wasn't perfect was that my little sister, Kelly, wasn't able to get away from her performance schedule and work. I really missed her being part of our family celebration, and would have loved the chance to really catch up.
This weekend also made me realize that I've become a bit stuck in my routines. I've been busy with class and work. I've fallen into the Eugene trap of circulating in the same social groups and seeing the same parts of town day after day. As happy as I am with my Eugene life, I was also needing a change. A last minute, surprise trip to Denver was the perfect diversion. With just over a month of classes left, I feel so capable to get back into the swing of school, and to keep on living my college life.
Surprise! Happy Easter everyone.
April 19, 2011 - 9:48 PM
Tonight I attended my first Passover Seder! By boss (and friend), Melissa Crabbe, is the wife of Temple Beth Israel's Associate Rabbi. So I attended my first Jewish celebration in full style, at the table with the rabbi. The community Seder was held at the synagog for members of the wider TBI community, including visitors and friends. Most people there had celebrated the first night of Passover the night before, in their homes with the friends and families. For me, it was a treat and an honor to be present as a part of a broad definition of community.
I went not knowing what to expect. Literally. Pretty much all I had been told was that there would be food and a lot of friendly people.
We sang almost the entire event. There were a series of ritual blessings of our food and drink, and short activities to help remember the Jewish people's story of the Exodus from Egypt. We at specific foods to remember those times, and to celebrate. Then we had dinner. Throughout the evening we sang songs in celebration, but also read pieces of the Exodus story. Sometimes this reading was in English, simply read aloud. Other times it was in Hebrew and was read in a chant or song.
I loved all of it. I even tried to stumble through the Hebrew. It was a beautiful thing to have the community all singing together, as they recited a story in celebration. Plus there was a delightful element of verses that were sung as "Li li li," which didn't have the same element of language barrier. I was really good at those verses.
What surprised me most were the consistent elements of social justice woven into the Exodus story. The message was very clear: we were oppressed in Egypt, let us hope for a world in which there is no more oppression.
I found the entire experience to be very uplifting. It is a wonderful thing to be welcomed into a community like that, particularly when I felt it was very obvious that I didn't know the way things were supposed to be. My hosts were gracious and kind, and made me feel very welcome. Melissa's family kept me on track, particularly her daughter, Clarice. She helped me stumble through the first few songs, and helped me figure out what food on the table was there for snacking, and what was part of the ritual of the evening. We shared a songbook and helped each other with the ritual hand washing.
In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of the evening: the hand washing. We took turns pouring water over each other's hands at our tables. It was a simple and really beautiful piece of ritual and community. It took some teamwork and organization, and meant some confusion getting everything organized. And it was lovely. We helped each other. When it was time to pour cups of wine or grape juice, no one poured their own: we poured for each other. I think that a large piece of my feeling of comfort and welcome was the nature of the Seder itself: that we were asked to make each other welcome and wash each other's hands.
So, many thanks to Temple Beth Israel for the welcome! I am really grateful to have been a part of this celebration.
April 17, 2011 - 8:18 PM
I have lived in my current house for almost three years now. Affectionately referred to as The Danger Zone, this house has seen some of the best years of my life, and has held some of my dearest friends. I love living with my current roommates, and couldn't possibly ask for a more fabulous room. But the era of the Danger Zone is coming to a quick end.
Next year the roommates will scatter to the far corners of the world (literally, we'll at least have Portland and Uganda on the list), and the house will pass to new owners, who will hopefully use it for further hilarity and joy.
Our lease ends on July 1st, and I have become completely obsessed with finding new housing for next year. Obsessed to the point of distraction, actually. You see, I have taken it into my head that next year I might live alone. I've lived with three roommates for the past four years, the dorms for a year before that, and my earlier life was spent with my family. The longest I've lived alone was for a week and a half one summer when all my roommates were gone. I don't really know what it would feel like to have my own space, and to be alone in a home.
I've loved living communally for all this time. I love the action, the easy associations, and the spontaneity of sharing space. I love when my roommates throw parties and potlucks. Since we have so many friends in common, we have shared many celebrations and events together over the years, and I have benefited enormously from my daily associations with these wonderful people.
And yet, next year I will be writing a masters thesis. That, if nothing else, is cause for some increased personal space. I'll be researching, analyzing, and writing on a daily basis. I'll be stressed and bored and lonely and blissfully focused. That's probably just in one afternoon. And the more I imagine accomplishing another thesis with a house full of people trying to convince me to come hang out for a little while, the more I feel that a year without distractions is the way to go.
As these images solidify, I've realized I cannot wait to live alone.
I want to find a studio somewhere. Maybe a loft, even. I want to be closer to campus, or maybe closer to downtown, so when I choose to be social I can do so easily. I'm looking at all my household items in a different light now, wondering if I have enough pictures for the walls, and if I should invest in some nicer knives. I'm pondering the relative values of counter space and skylights. I'm taking new interest in other people's living space, and trying to re-envision my own.
I haven't found the perfect place yet. I don't need anyplace too fancy or too big. Just some space for me to put down roots for a single year: a place to write and research and entertain friends. A place I might put an indoor plant and have it live. A home.
So anyway, wish me luck. I haven't been housing hunting for a long time. Years, actually. So there's some nervousness in all of this, as well as excitement. Let me know if you have a spare kitchen table sitting around. Or a spare arm chair. I have more bookshelf space than you can shake a stick at.
Mostly, just send some vibes of patience and luck. And imagine me scanning Craigslist and neighborhood "for rent" signs with renewed interest. Hopefully I'll have some housing news to report very soon.
April 15, 2011 - 12:55 PM
My little sister, Kelly, is a performer. All our lives she's been the drama queen, with the skills and flair to make a musical theater major the perfect track. She's larger than life in so many ways: tap dancing, singing, and wearing the kind of shoes that make me fall over just thinking about it.
We're different in many, many ways, but I am so proud she's my sister.
Tonight is the final night of the theater production "All My Sons" by Arthur Miller. Kelly was the lead in the play.
From the reports I've heard so far from my parents (who both attended the play last night) this play is horribly depressing, but a powerful drama about war and family. As such, it's outside of Kelly's norm. The last time I saw her lead in a play, she was Lola in "Damn Yankees," shaking booty and ordering folks around stage with comically overblown flirtation and some impressively high-heeled shoes. So I was surprised to hear that she was cast in such a serious part for this play. And then I was thrilled to hear that she carried it beautifully, and the performance was a huge success.
I so wish I had been there. Her senior year of high school I attended "Damn Yankees" instead of her high school graduation (her choice). One of the hardest things about attending school out of state has been the distance I've felt from her activities and successes. Mesa State is in Grand Junction, on the Western Slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I had never even seen the city before I spent some time with her last summer. It's strange that something which has been such a huge part of her life is still so foreign to me. I so wish I had been there last night for the standing ovation, standing in the audience with my parents. Hopefully someday soon I'll make it out to Mesa for a play.
The best part of hearing about this performance was listening to Kelly talk about being in the leading role. She talked about how much she's learned, how hard she's worked, and what an amazing experience it's been. I love hearing her sound so excited and so proud of her theater experience. She's a busy kid: always rushing from one performance to another, always squeezing in time with her friends around the auditions, rehearsals, costuming, and other various (and to me, very foreign) aspects of her education. Tonight is the last night of "All My Sons," and tomorrow morning she has rehearsal for a dance recital.
As the two of us have grown up, we have become more and more different from one another. As I have pursued academics and social justice, she has pursued theater and the arts. As I have become more introverted over the years, she is increasingly in the spotlight. And yet. We have the same sense of humor, the same shared jokes, the same tendency to "kill" songs from over-listening, and the same tendency to re-watch MASH re-runs until full episodes have been memorized. While I would be vastly more comfortable writing a twenty page paper than performing a song onstage, we both love to be the focus of a large, laughing group. We share the inside jokes of eighteen years beneath the same roof, and have an alarming tendency for giggle fits when together.
I have this enormous sense of pride and love for my sister. I am so happy to know that she is happy and is increasingly successful in the field she has chosen. My little drama queen, growing up in the limelight.