June 26, 2009 - 1:14 PM
That's right. It's a breakup story. It's that time of year: classes are over, and people have moved on for the summer. It means a lot of excitement and a lot of heartbreak. And for me this year, it means getting left behind.
This is not a boyfriend blog. This is a roommates blog. A tribute to some fabulous roommates and a wonderful year.
Roommates are frequent subjects of thought, celebration, and woe for college students. We are transient beings, often moving each of the four years we spend in Eugene. I have now experienced three of the most common housing options in Eugene: dorm life, an apartment near campus, and now a house more than a mile and a half from the UO.
I have already written a blog about my life in the dorms, but let me just say briefly that while I loved living in the dorms, the situation with my roommate had nothing to do with my happiness there. In fact, we did not speak to each other by the end of our time together. So sophomore year I was searching for a more harmonious living situation.
Last year I lived in an apartment building right across from the music building on campus. It was convenient and cheap, and I lived with three of my best friends. We decided to live in a quad, which is a four bedroom apartment with private entrances and shared kitchen/living space. It was at The Quad (as we called it) that I learned something new and exciting: that being best friends does not make you good roommates. While we had many good times there, I ended up fighting constantly and passive-aggressively with Ben, who wanted the quad to maintain a cleanliness level that seemed unreasonable to me. Nathan was fine to live with, but often wanted to be entertained, which I rarely had time to do with my busy schedule. Grant and I were basically compatible, although I think it was only Ben's influence that kept Grant's mess from spilling into our shared space.
In any event, it was a very interesting thing to live in an apartment: to be shopping and cooking for myself for the first time, and to be sharing this with three other college students who also didn't really know what they were doing.
This year I lived in a beautiful house in South Eugene. I lived with my friend Sonya, who I met while studying abroad in Chile, and two of her friends, Maddy and Megan. It was a little tense at first. Maddy and Megan weren't immediately thrilled to have a fourth person joining their friendship trio, and Sonya was often occupied and unable to help me navigate these new relationships. We had our standard conflicts over dishes, food, and space usage. Everyone has something that bugs them irrationally, while the person who is committing this offense doesn't even recognize it (example: I often leave the prior DVD out on top of the TV, which drives Maddy crazy. On the other hand, I would sometimes wake up in the morning to find half the cupboard doors and drawers hanging open in the kitchen. Maddening!)
But, to make a long story short, this ended up being an amazing year for housing. We had some great times together as roommates. I got very close with Maddy and Megan at the end of term, partly based on sharing a new passion for the SciFi TV series "Battlestar Gallactica," which sometimes kept us up until 2 am on school nights. We would eat popcorn ala Megan: covered with honey and Parmesan cheese. I participated in a roommate feud based on Maddy's irrational love of Shia LaBuff and Megan's more understandable aversion to him (which included poster wars and guerrilla tactics). Sometimes we had potluck dinners together. We would drink wine and play gin rummy and trash talk each other's card playing abilities. We even have a fake band, Floppy Sleeves and the Tea Kettlers, which features no talent, inside-joke lyrics, and a great deal of semi-hysterical laughter.
What I'm saying on the most basic level is that we learned to live with each other's quirks, and ended up being really close friends.
Which brings us to now. They are all a year older than me, a year ahead in school. I got to see them graduate and meet all their families for a big graduation party at our house. They're off on adventures now, starting new lives and plans away from Eugene (including Maddy's job teaching English in China next September). This leaves me all alone in the house for a month or so before the new roommates move in. I'm excited for next year and for my plans, but that doesn't change my sadness for the ending of this awesome year.
Plus, we've got to finish what we started. As our fans have already lamented, our band has had to temporarily disperse due to irreconcilable geographic differences. But here's a promise to all our fans and to my fabulous roommate friends. Floppy Sleeves and the Tea Kettlers will rise again!
June 26, 2009 - 10:07 AM
My earliest memories are of you. You up on stage, singing the old classic rock songs. You dancing with your guitar. I think it was probably the Cherry Creek Sneak I am thinking of, one of those many gigs you played as a side entertainment to some community event. But what I remember then and from the dozens of times in my life is this thought: "my dad, the rock star." You playing and singing, always the front man in my mind. Me dancing with Mom and later with Little Sister, too. You were the rock god to this little girl. The unquestioned hero.
Now that I am older, I understand what an amazing thing it is that you have done with your life. You have balanced a serious job and support of your family with a maintenance of your passions in life. That guitar has been a constant since you were younger than I am now. And I have already experienced over and over that it is so easy to leave our passions behind when life gets busy, as yours certainly has been.
It's not just the music. It's the art as well. The stained glass when I was younger: the ballerina slippers you made to hang in my window. The stained glass lamp on Mom's desk.
You have made everything possible in my life, and for all our family. But you have never let your responsibilities and your incredible work ethic stop you from following your passions. At least that's how it looks to me: that you followed stained glass until you found a new interest, and then you transformed your art studio into a recording studio. You love playing in bands so you've joined new ones: not just classic rock cover bands now, but also horn bands, original solo work, and Celtic music. You love guitar, but you've expanded into other instruments now, including that dual harmonica and guitar trick we all find so amusing.
All this has taught me so much. To follow my passions no matter what else I have to do to maintain them. That work ethic and fun go hand in hand. Now that I've begun to work at nearly full time jobs, I am recognizing what you've been teaching me all along: to be strategic, to be committed, and to make yourself a valuable employee and thereby gain a degree of flexibility that is not offered to all.
I know you have sometimes thought some of my plans were somewhat of crazy. You've worried that I was taking myself, your beloved daughter, into dangerous or outlandish circumstances with my traveling and volunteering. We don't always see eye to eye on politics or other matters. But increasingly we're talking about these things and finding again and again how important it is that we will always have things we share.
One of the things we will always share is music. From the early days of Dad's gigs and listening to you play in the family room or in your basement practice area (including that favorite song of mine, which I thought for years included the lyrics "and the bear chases my blues away") we have always shared music together. Now we get together and transfer over hundreds of songs from our itunes.
And we get together and write music now. What a wonderful dovetailing of the skills and passions I have developed during my whole life with you: that we can sit in the basement with scratch tracks of your recordings and my scribbled lyrics and make something magical happen.
So I guess this is all a thank-you, Dad. A thank you for a lifetime of music and examples of how to live. For the fun times ahead, for our future musical collaborations and the long talks on the way to Grandma's house. Maybe someday we can still get together on stained glass lessons. Maybe you'll come join me for more of my traveling adventures (and I promise to be a better tour guide than I was in Chile!) Maybe someday I'll finally get the hang of the guitar so I can play with you, which has always been one of my fondest dreams.
But regardless of this, here's some love from your oldest daughter. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you are and have always been to me.
June 21, 2009 - 8:00 PM
Two different worlds coming into class trying to learn the same thing.
This is how one of my inmate classmates described the Inside-Out class we took together. Two worlds: honors college students from the University of Oregon and inmates at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The Inside Out Program is a national program that takes college classes into prisons for cooperative learning. It is not research, or a "Scared Straight" program, or college students "helping" inmates. It is a class of inmates and college students learning together through dialogue and study.
It has changed my life.
But in this one I want to write more about the class itself, about my experiences and my thoughts. I was fundamentally changed by this class when I first participated during the spring term of my freshman year. I was allowed to take the class again this spring because I will be writing my honors thesis on intergroup dialogue and the Inside-Out Program. I want to write about this recent class and what it has meant to me to be a part of this program with these people.
It is impossible to understand completely what this class means without participating yourself. But I want to try because I believe it is truly important. If you can spare ten minutes, here is a documentary that three journalism students did on our Inside-Out class. There are interviews with me as well as with other class members. It is well worth your time and might lead to some better understanding of the experience.
Click here to view Inside Looking Out video.
Our class was a literature class. Professor Steven Shankman attended training for Inside-Out in Philadelphia and decided to depart from the usual course material that centers on criminal justice and sociology. He is a professor of humanities, English, and Comparative Literature. So he teaches literature classes.
The spring of 2009 class was a class on Literature and Ethics. Twelve inside students and thirteen outside (I was added because I am researching my thesis) students read Don Quixote by Cervantes and The Idiot by Dostoevsky, as well as philosophy by Emmanuel Levinas. Our classes met once a week for three hours, inside the walls of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, the state capital.
That first day of class we all arrived scared for one reason or another. Maybe the outside students were afraid when the bars slid shut, or when the inmates came into the room. Maybe some were afraid of violence or disrespect. The Inside students were also probably afraid: of judgment, perhaps, or disrespect, or simply the contact with someone from outside the institution. I know I was afraid. I was afraid that we would not be able to communicate, that dialogue wouldn't work, and that the divide between the groups would be too large.
During that first class I spoke with every Inside student. I immediately recognized them as profound and passionate thinkers: as students and eager listeners. I found people who were shy or outgoing, academic or not, young and old. They had all done the homework. So had we. We leaned forward in our seats, made eye contact as we talked. We sat in a circle that made us all equal.
I have never experienced that depth of thought or degree of passion for a subject matter in any other class. I have never connected so fundamentally with my classmates in any other setting.
We talked about the books. We talked about Ethics. We talked about our lives: about our dreams and our histories. We talked about books we loved or places we would like to see. We talked about the news and the economy. We talked about prison life. Some of the inside students shared their crimes.
What I came to understand during the course of the class is a fundamental truth of how I understand the world: we are all just human. That means that there is no one I cannot talk to and relate to on some basic level.
I also believe firmly and inescapably that no one is equal solely to the worst thing they have ever done.
I am not a prison abolitionist. I believe in some sort of law and order, some form of justice and some form of reparations. But I also believe our current system is incredibly flawed because of my classmates, who I came to see as my equals and my friends, and who are divided from me by the laws of society. I had been led to believe that people like my Inside classmates are all dangerous, bad, that they must be locked away and kept as far away from me as possible. They deserve their punishments, and are in no way similar to me.
Obviously there is something wrong here. Some deep ethical truth we are missing. Some reality that demands that each person who crosses our path be viewed as that whole person, who hungers and dreams as we do, and who makes both mistakes and beauty.
So where does all this lead me? It leaves me deeply, deeply saddened by the end of the class. Maybe someday I will blog about this more, but I'm not quite ready for that yet. There is a graduation ceremony during finals week, and we meet for a final time. There are no last names in the Inside-Out Program. There is no exchange of addresses or contact information. We cannot return to visit. The class is finite and fleeting. Ten meetings. Less than thirty hours of class time to overcome our social fears and come to trust, to count as friends, to learn new things about literature and life, and then to say goodbye. Less than thirty hours.
Saying goodbye at the end of the class was one of the hardest things I have ever done. If you watch that video, you might understand to some extent. The men interviewed in the class are intelligent, engaged people. They are my friends.
And, like one classmate said, we were two worlds coming together. Now our worlds have separated again.
But, at least for me, this was an experience I will never move beyond, never forget, never get out of the back of my mind: we are all just humans, and these people are my friends.
June 21, 2009 - 4:00 PM
It has been a whirlwind week. I am in Eugene this summer, working with the American English Institute (AEI) as a tutor and activities coordinator for international students who study English at the University of Oregon. (Please see my previous blogs on this topic: ) The Humphrey Scholars Program is similar to the Fullbright program in some ways: tparticipants are mid-level professionals from developing countries, adults who are studying English at the University of Oregon before continuing to other universities to do advanced research in their professional areas. They are in a variety of fields: public policy, health care, technology, education, law, management, and others. Ten Humphrey scholars have been here since April, and I have been working with them this whole time, doing trips and activities and serving as a sighted guide for the two blind women in the group.
So my summer job is a continuation of this old job. Other groups study at the AEI also, but my first week of summer has been consumed by Humphrey activities. That means airport pickups, settling them in dorms, orientation, campus tours, meetings, banking, shopping trips, and a tour of Eugene. All in the course of four days.
Today was my first day off since they began to arrive. I worked about thirty-five hours in those four days, and this day off has felt like a miracle. The logistics that go into all of this are just incredible. I am learning so many amazing skills from my work here.
My favorite part of the Humphrey program is that these people are all so interesting. They are already established in their professions: they come from developing nations and are driven and intelligent. They want to hear about some of my favorite aspects of Eugene and the US: the infrastructure, the human rights groups, NGOs, health care initiatives and problems, and education. And from them I can hear stories about incredible work being done in these countries: work in women's health, drug abuse prevention, telecommunications integration, education, health policy, and ecojournalism. They come from all over the world: from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Central and South America and Africa.
Imagine all these perspectives coming together. And they all stop and listen to me as I show them around campus or explain some aspect of American culture. It boggles the mind. There is so much to say and so much to hear. Every time I speak to one of them it seems I discover a whole new facet of a topic I thought we had already exhausted. And it is a constant and exciting challenge to have something to offer them: I can show them my city, and I can listen to their English and help move a conversation along. One of our scholars is learning English as a fifth language. Just imagine. And she's not even a communications professional, she's a communicable diseases pathologist.
Finally, in a miraculous coincidence, the gentleman from Chile is from my study abroad location, a small city in southern Chile. Not only that, but he works at the University, and has worked with the oldest daughter in my Chilean host family. Small world.
I hope this job sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. For me it just seems like a miracle, some dream job I've landed for the summer. Whenever there's some less exciting administrative chore or some minor catastrophe to clear up, I always just think about the next cool activity. Picking them up from the airport, individually or in small groups, was an inconvenience that kept me up until 3 am. But I got to be the first Eugenian (is that what we are?) to welcome them here, to drive them to campus and help them set up their dorm rooms, dial in the phone card numbers so they could call their families back home.
While a trip to the Saturday Market with fifteen adult foreigners in tow might be a little more exciting, these airport pickups are extremely important to me. I was welcomed when I traveled abroad. I learned quickly how to take care of myself: how to navigate and plan and be flexible and resolve minor disasters. But I will never forget how wonderful it was that my first experiences abroad were with kind strangers and welcoming hosts.
I hope that is who I am during these excursions. The welcoming American, ready to hear their stories and share my own during their brief stay at the UO.
June 14, 2009 - 9:00 PM
Hello, faithful readers!
Finally, finally I had a day to catch my breath. The end of the term is always a busy time for UO students, especially the end of spring term. You're not only busy with finals like usual, but also with summer plans and saying summer goodbyes. To this, I added work (more than 20 hours this week) and graduation celebrations. This all resulted in a very, very busy last couple of weeks.
First, the graduation stuff. My three roommates this year all graduated this weekend. I can't even believe it. They have been wonderful roommates and have become fabulous friends as well. So we had a graduation party here, as well as other celebrations.
I also worked at the Honors College graduation ceremony as an usher and general helping hand. The Honors College has been an extremely important place for me. I truly don't know what I would do without it: the professors, staff, facility, and the other students. It is the most important part of college to me and has afforded the most incredible opportunities. So work at graduation was wonderful: cheering on the students I know, and imagining myself on that stage in a single years' time.
Graduation means that the entire University demographic changes completely. I almost wouldn't recognize the place as home. All the people I have come to know here are students or faculty or staff: they are almost all my age, and all behave in their normal patterns of student life, studies, and friendships. But suddenly Graduation arrives and family reenters the mix! Grandparents, siblings, and parents everywhere. Cameras going off every other moment. Roommates brothers sleeping on couches and floors. A family context for all the grads who I have only ever known as students, rather than as members of families.
On Saturday morning I attended the International Studies graduation. This time I was working with the American Institute, serving as sighted guide for our two blind students, and as cultural translator for the other international students there with us. I love this job for many, many reasons, but I think the most valuable thing is that it forces me to re-examine things I take for granted. Who designed the goofy grad hats? The robes? How many students graduated? Why did international studies majors choose that major? And on and on.
It is a wonderful thing to examine life on occasion, and to imagine what your expectations look like from the outside.
- - -
Overall, this has been a great week. A great end to a great term and academic year. I worked hard, and am happy with how my classes ended. I had wonderful jobs at the university and have learned so much about myself and my goals through contact with motivated and committed people.
I suppose I should write a whole blog about this year in general: my best friends, my progress toward graduation, my home, my roommates, my favorite Eugene hangouts, my summer plans, my favorite things about the University.
I guess I'll have time to blog about all of that, since I'll still be with you this summer. I hope I'm writng interesting things for you, my faithful reader.
It is all wonderful and exciting to me. I only hope you feel the same.